Abd al-Malik I (Samanid emir)

Abd al-Malik I
Gold dinar of Abd al-Malik I, minted at Nishapur in 955/6
Amir of the Samanids
ReignAugust 954 – 23 November 961
PredecessorNuh I
SuccessorMansur I
Born936 or 944/5
DiedNovember 961 (aged 17 or 25)
FatherNuh I
ReligionSunni Islam

Abd al-Malik I (Persian: عبدالملک‎; 936 or 944/5 – November 961) was amir of the Samanids from 954 to 961. He was the son and successor of Nuh I (r. 943–954). His reign was mainly marked by internal strife, with the Turkic slave-soldiers (ghulam) increasing in power. He died after falling from his horse during game of polo at Bukhara; he was succeeded by his brother Mansur I, who was put on the throne by a faction of ghulams led by Fa'iq.


Abd al-Malik was the eldest son of the Samanid amir Nuh I (r. 943–954).[1] According to the contemporary historian Narshakhi, Abd al-Malik ascended the throne at the age of 10, which would mean that he was born in 944/5. However, according to Hamza al-Isfahani, Abd al-Malik was born in 936, which would make him 19 at the time of his accession. The Encyclopaedia Islamica considers the report of Narshakhi unconvincing, and possibly a misinterpretation. It argues that chronicles make no mention of a 10-year old Abd al-Malik being aided by a regent to supervise the Samanid realm. Nonetheless, it still states that "until further documentation comes to light, nothing more definite can be said on the matter."[1]


Geophysical map of southern Central Asia (Khurasan and Transoxiana) with the major settlements and regions

Since the reign of Nuh I, several difficulties started appearing in the Samanid realm, namely financial shortcomings, dissatisfaction in the army, and the emergence of powerful neighbouring kingdoms such as the Buyids. Internal strife, lack of capable viziers and the increasing authority of the Turkic slave-soldiers (ghulam) had also weakened the Samanid realm.[1] From his father Abd al-Malik inherited a tumultuous kingdom; with the circulation of Nuh's death, many military commanders in different parts of the realm started rebelling. Abd al-Malik only succeeded in ascending the throne with the accord of the leading military commanders. From the start of his reign, the commanders and courtiers were the ones with actual authority.[1] Abd al-Malik appointed Abu Mansur Muhammad ibn Uzayr as his vizier, while Bakr ibn Malik al-Farghani retained the office as governor of Khurasan.[1]

At the same time, the Muhtajid prince Abu Ali Chaghani—who had lost the governorship of Khurasan at the end of Nuh's reign—fled to the domain of the Buyid ruler Rukn al-Dawla (r. 935–976). There he was entrusted with the governorship of Khurasan by the Abbasid caliphs through the mediation of their Buyids, who were their suzerain. He was also given an army by Rukn al-Dawla, which he used to capture the capital of Khurasan, Nishapur. However, he was soon repelled from the province by Bakr ibn Malik al-Farghani,[1] and died the following year (955) at Ray due to a cholera outbreak.[1] After his death, Abd al-Malik sent two armies to attack the Buyid cities of Ray and Isfahan.[1]

However, the two powers soon made peace; under the terms of the peace treaty, the towns in Jibal, including Ray, were to be kept under Buyid rule, while the Samanids would receive annual sum of 200,000 dinars as tribute.[1] At the same time, some dissatisfied authorities within the Samanid realm accused Bakr ibn Malik al-Farghani of conspiring with the Buyids. Abd al-Malik had him subsequently summoned to Bukhara in December 956 under the pretense that he would award him a robe of honour, but instead had the ghulam Alptigin kill him. He then had his vizier Muhammad ibn Uzayr imprisoned and executed. Both were accused of being Qarmatians. Abu al-Hasan Simjur was subsequently given the governorship of Khurasan, while Abu Ja'far Utbi was made vizier.[1] However, Abu Ja'far's term as vizier turned out to be shortlived, due to Abd al-Malik's lack of experience, and the influence of the military commanders. He tried to replenish the depleted treasury, but this seemingly caused discontent; in 959, Abd al-Malik had him dismissed and appointed Abu Mansur Yusuf ibn Ishaq in his stead. The following year (960), Abd al-Malik replaced Abu al-Hasan Simjur with Abu Mansur Muhammad as the governor of Khurasan. Through these actions, Abd al-Malik was possibly trying to reduce the power of the military commanders.[1]

Regardless, the ghulams were rapidly gaining more and more power. Alptigin managed to gain the governorship of Khurasan for himself, and had Muhammad Bal'ami, son of Abu'l-Fadl al-Bal'ami, promoted to that post. The new vizier, however, was not as competent as his father. He was impressionable and second-rate, and thus the ghulams continued to further cement their grip over the realm.[2] According to the 11th-century Iranian historian Gardizi, Alptigin and Bal'ami worked in close cooperation; he further adds that "Bal'ami never did anything without the knowledge of Alptigin and on his recommendation."[3]

Death and aftermath[]

Map of the Samanid amirate at the death of Abd al-Malik I

Abd al-Malik was not able to stop the expansion of the ghulams powers, resulting in the ghulams being effectively in control by the time he died in November 961 at Bukhara after falling from his horse during a game of polo.[1][2] His palace in Khurasan was soon afterwards raided by the ghulams, who threw the administration into a state of chaos.[1]

Alptigin attempted to appoint Abd al-Malik's son as amir, but another group, led by Fa'iq, managed to put Abd al-Malik's brother Mansur I on the throne.[2] The Samanid kingdom was in a dire state after Abd al-Malik's death, according to Narshakhi; "When they buried him, the army grew restless and rebelled; everyone coveted the kingdom, and troubles raised their head."[3] Regardless, the modern historian Clifford Edmund Bosworth states that "Mansur's reign may be regarded as the last one in which the fabric of the empire held firm, such that its prosperity excited favorable comment from outsiders."[4] Meanwhile, Alptigin fled to Ghazni on the edge of the Samanid realm, where his slave Sabuktigin eventually established the Ghaznavid dynasty.[3]

Not much is known about the personality of Abd al-Malik. Al-Maqdisi (d. 991) deemed him as an exceptional figure amidst the Samanid monarchs, while Shabankara'i (d. 1358) portrayed him as a fair and virtuous individual.[1][3] During his reign, Abd al-Malik was known as al-Muwaffaq ("The Divinely Assisted"), and after his death he seemingly became referred to as al-Mu'ayyad ("The Divinely Aided").[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Zarrinkoub & Negahban 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Frye 1975, p. 152.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bosworth 1982, p. 128.
  4. ^ Bosworth 2002.


Preceded by
Nuh I
Amir of the Samanids
Succeeded by
Mansur I