Al-Balādhurī’s Slavs

Returning to more topical topics, we want to introduce Aḥmad Ibn Yaḥyā al-Balādhurī was a ninth-century Persian (probably) historian who traveled throughout the Middle East before penning his masterpieces.  One of those was  Kitab Futuh al-Buldan (The Book of the Conquests of Lands) where there are a few mentions of Slavs.  We chose not to include some other interesting passages (such as the one where he mentions the desert of Varta).

“They say that Salman ibn Rabi’a al Bahili served in the army of Abu Ubayda with Abu Uman a-Sudajj ibn Aglan, a co,pinion of the Prophet – let God’s blessing and care be with him.  He stopped at a certain fortress near Qurus, which [fortress] has since been named after him and is known as the Fortress of Salman.  Then he returned from Syria together with auxiliary forces for Sad ibn Abi Waqqas who at the time was in Iraq.”

“They also say that Salman ibn Rabi organized an expedition against the Byzantine Empire after taking Iraq but before his expedition to Armenia.  He set up camp nearby this fortress and left from the side of Maras.  For this reason it was named after him.”

“This Salman and Ziyad were descended from these Slavs, who were settled at the border by Marwan ibn-Muhammad.*  I myself heard someone who claimed that this Salman came from the Slavs and that this fortress was named after him.  God knows best.”

* This is the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II (caliph 744 – 750) Perhaps these were Slavs settled there by Byzantines in the 7th century who then joined the Arabs and resettled (?) on the Muslim side or they may have been made prisoner by Marwan during his invasion of Khazaria in 737.

Another fragment is as follows:

“Then when the year 756-757, he ordered to populate the town of al-Massisa.  The walls of this town had been thrown down in the course of various campaigns and the few inhabitants who still dwelt there, lived deep inside the town.  Therefore, he built the town walls and placed people there in the year 757-758… Then he relocated to al-Massisa the inhabitants of al-Husus who were Persians, Slavs and Christians – Nahateians, and those who had been previously settled in that town [al-Husus] by Marwan* and he gave them in this [new] town land to compensate them for their old dwellings, according to their size [i.e., the bigger the prior dwelling the, bigger the new].  He leveled their old dwellings, helped them build anew and gave their old lands and houses [in al-Husus] to the garrison.”

*   They’d been settled there by al-Mansur not Marwan.


“They say Salman went towards the place where ar-Rass joins al-Kurr beyond al-Bardig.  He crossed al-Kurr and conquered Qabala… Then he was meat by the Khagan together with his horsemen beyond Narh al-Balangar and [Salman], may God have mercy on him, was killed together with four thousand Muslims… Ibn Guman al-Bahili says of Salman and of Qutayba ibn Muslim: ‘We have two graves: a grave in Balangar* and a grave in Sinistan’…”  

* or Bulungur – see below; the last portion of this passage is found in Kitab Uyun al-Akhbar of Ibn Qutaybah

And too:

“Marwan ibn-Muhammad was nominated [by Hisam ibn And al-Malik] a ruler at the frontier and took up his abode at Kasak/Kisal.  He built a city in this country which city lies forty phrasings from Bardha’ah and twenty from Taflis.  Marwan then entered the country of al-Khazar next to Bab al-Lan and made Said ibn-Zafir as-Sulami abu-Yazid, accompanied by the kings of al-Jibal [or “of the mountains”], enter it from the side of al-Bab wa-l-Abwab.  Then Marwan made an incursion on the Slavs who were in the land of al-Khazar and captured twenty thousand families whom he settled in Khakhit.  When they later put their leader to death and took to flight, Marwan pursued and slaughtered them.* They say that when the great leader of the al-Khazar received news of the size of the peoples/army with which Marwan entered into his country and with what number and strength they are going against him, this news frightened his heart and filled it with fear.  When [Marwan] he came closer, he sent an emissary to him asking him either to convert to Islam or to war.  [The leader of al-Khazar] replied: ‘I accept Islam.  Sent me someone who can explain it to me.’  He did this and he converted to Islam, and Marwan agreed to confirm him [as leader of] his kingdom.  [Then] Marwan went out with a throng of people from amongst al-Khazar and settled it between as-Samur. and as-Sabiran, in the plain of the land of al-Lachs [Lezgins?].” 

* Some people think these were Volga Kama Bulgars who became Muslim or Burtas or Suvars (Chuvash).  Others that these were Slavic warriors working for the khagan.   Since these are explicitly mentioned as Slavs and as families, neither of these suggestions seems correct (though at least some of those Bulgars may have spoken Slavic by then).  It’s not clear whether this “leader” was a Slavic (much like the Byzantines had selected rulers for the Slavs – the Slav Nevonlos – Nevolnost!?) one or an Arab or Khazar one – either way he was probably one imposed by (or at least acceptable to) the Arabs.

Later too:

“I was told by Ahmad ibn Salman al-Bahili who learned this from as-Sahmi who, in turn, learned this fro, his masters, that Salman ibn Rabi’a invaded Syria together with Abu Uman as-sudsy ibn Aglan al Bahili… Then he went to Iraq with reinforcements, hurrying to al-Quadisiya and was witness to that battle.  [Then] he spent [time] in Syria and he was killed in Bulungur.”*

* or Balangar – see above


“So it is said by Garir: ‘‘if Bisr wanted it, t hen beyond his doors there would be guarding access to them black foreigners or red [humrSlavs.  But Bisr enabled access to his doors to those whose rare visits bring him fame and payment.’”*

* this passage is also found in Kitab Uyun al-Akhbar of Ibn Qutaybah

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December 18, 2016

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