NOTE: This article was originally published in Encyclopedia Iranica
A region of eastern Transcaucasia. It lay essentially within the great triangle of land, lowland in the east but rising to mountains in the west, formed by the junction of the Rivers Kur or Kura and Araxes or Aras. It was thus bounded on the north by Šervān; on the north west by Šakkī (Armenian Šak’e) and Kaxeti in eastern Georgia; on the south by Armenia and Azerbaijan province; and on the southeast by the Caspian coastal province of Mūqān or Mūgān. Arran’s situation between these two great rivers explains the name Bayn alnahrayn given to it by Islamic geographers.
In pre-Islamic times, Arran formed the heart of the Iranian province of Caucasian Albania (to be distinguished of course from the Balkan Albania), which in fact embraced all eastern Transcaucasia, i.e. Arran here was a wider concept than that of post-Islamic Arran, and corresponded grosso-modo with the modern republic of Azerbaijan (since 1918).
The Armenian term for this land was Alvank` or Raneak`, and the history of the region, from mythical times till the 10th century CE, is given by the Armenian historian Movsēs Dasxuranc’i (formerly referred to as Kalankatwac’i) [Footnote 1]. The Greeks knew the people as Albanoi, and the Georgians knew them as Rani, a form taken over in an arabized form for the early Islamic geographical term al-Rān (pronounced ar-Rān). Early Arrān seems to have displayed the famed linguistic complexity of the Caucasus as a whole. Strabo 9.4, cites Theophanes of Mytilene that Albania had at least 26 different languages or dialects, and the distinctive Albanian speech persisted into early Islamic times, since Armenian and Islamic sources alike stigmatize the tongue as cacophonous and barbarous, with Estakhri, p. 192, Ebn Hawqal, p. 349, tr. Kramers-Wiet, p. 342, and Moqaddasi, p. 378, recording that al-Rānīya was still spoken in the capital Barda’a or Barda’a in their time (4th/10th century). Hence Markwart, Erānsahr, p.117, was doubtless correct when he spoke of Albania/Arrān as being pre-eminently a non-IndoEuropean land; the Albanian tongue must have belonged to the Eastern Caucasian linguistic family, as is indicated by the recently-discovered table of the 52 characters of the Albanian alphabet, in which a few inscriptions have also been found by Soviet archaeologists [Footnote 2].
Albania became Christianized at approximately the same time as was Armenia; Movses Dasxuranc’i places this event in the reign of King Urnayr in the mid-4th century, and states that St. Gregory, founder of the Armenian national church, was responsible for the monarch’s baptism. The Monophysite Albanian church remained separate from the Armenian one till the end of the 7th century, when the two were united under stimulus from the Arabs. Until well into medieval Islamic times, Muslims must have been only a minority in Arrān; Moqaddasī, p. 376, writing towards the end of the 4th/10th century, describes the Christians as still a majority in the towns of Qabala and Šabarān (near Quba). In the Byzantino-Sasanian wars, the Albanian kings sometimes had to supply contingents for the imperial Iranian army, and Urnayr participated with Shāpūr II in the siege of Āmed in 359, but more generally they combined with their fellow-Christian Armenian princes in resisting Persian expansion into Transcaucasia and Armenia, at times even paying tribute to the Byzantines.
Towards the end of the 5th century, the ancient ruling dynasty of Albania seems to have died out, and in the later 6th century and at the time of the Arab invasions some decades after then, Albania was ruled by princes of the Mihrān family, who claimed descent from the Imperial Sasanians but were probably of Imperial Parthian origin. Their most famous representatives in the 7th century were Varaz-Grigor, his son Ĵuanšer (Persian Ĵavānšir) and Varaz-Trdat I (Persian Varāzdād). The military exploits of the latter two potentates in the period of the first Arab invasions of Armenia and Arrān figure prominently in the 2nd book of MOVSES Dasxuranc`I’s chronicle. These princes bore the Persian title of Arrānšāh (in certain of the Arabic sources corruptly written as Līrānšāh), Armenian Eranšahik` or Aranšahik`.
During the time of the orthodox caliphs, and in particular during `Othman’s caliphate, such Arab commanders as Salman b. Rabi`a al-Bahell and Hab-b b. Maslama led raids into Armenia and Arrān, and in ca. 24/645 conquered the chief town of Arrān, Partaw (Arabic Barda’a, q.v.). Henceforth, Barda’a was always to be the bastion of Islam in these parts, though Muslim garrisons were placed in other urban centres such as Baylaqan, Šamkīr, and Qabala, and these were used as bases for raids northwards to Darband (q.v.) or Bab al-Abwab and the Khazar lands [Footnote 3]. Nevertheless, Arab control over these Caucasian marchlands was of necessity light and often uncertain, in the face of periodic invasions by such northern peoples as the Alans and Khazars. Arrān remained essentially a frontier province, left to its native princes, who were led by the Mihranids, [Footnote 4] on condition of the payment of tribute to the Muslim exchequer. In practice, the princes of Arrān in the time of Varaz-Trdat I (d. 705) paid tribute simultaneously to the Arabs, the Byzantines and the Khazars, according to Movses Dasxuranc’I,[Footnote 5] an indication of the confused state of affairs in eastern Transcaucasia,
Since the people of Arrān remained substantially Christian, they were treated in Islamic law as āhl al-Dhemma, hence liable to the poll-tax or ĵezya. This was paid in coins with Islamic superscriptions, and under the Umayyads sporadically and under the `Abbasids regularly, dirhams were issued from a mint called “Arrān” (probably either Barda`a or Baylaqan), in the case of the `Abbasids, from 145/762 onwards, continuing into the 3rd/9th century [Footnote 6]. There was also in Arrān, as in the whole Caucasian region, much intermarriage between Christians and Muslims, and Movses Dasxuranc’i (2.32) inveighs against those Albanian nobles who polluted the race and their faith by marriages with the infidels.
The Mihranids were extinguished through the assassination of Varaz-Trdat II by Nerseh P’ilippean in 207/822-23, and the Armenian prince of Šakkī to the north of Arrān, Sahl i Smbatean (Arabic, Sahl b. Sonbat), extended his power over Arrān. The province was in these years much disturbed due to effect from southern region, namely Āthropātekān or Āzarbāijān and the revolt of the Kkorramdinān lead by an Iranian freedom fighter Sardār (Warrior) Bābak, whose centre was at Badd just to the south of the Araxes, and it was Sahl who delivered up Bābak to the caliph al-Mo’tasem in 223/837-38. [Footnote 7] The middle years of this century saw an intensification, however, of the policies of Islamization under al-Motawakkil’s governor in Armenia Bōgā al-Kabīr, when various Armenian and Albanian local princes were deported to Baghdad and Samarra. But in 247/861-62 the caliph recognized as supreme prince in these regions the Bagratuni Ašot I (Arabic, Ašūt), who in 272/886 received the title of king.
As `Abbasid control over the outlying parts of the caliphate decayed, so its authority in the Caucasian region weakened, allowing local Muslim military commanders and adventurers, like the Iranian Sajids (q.v.) of Āzārbaijan and then, in the 4th/10th century, the Daylami Mosaferids (q.v.); also called Sallarids or Kangarids to assume control in eastern Transcaucasia south of Šervan (which now had its own line of Šervānšāhs, the Arab Yazidis, based on the town of Šervān). The northern branch of the Mosaferids, a family originally from Tārom in Daylam (today Gilān), ruled in Arrān under Marzobān b. Mohammad b. Mosafer (330-46/941-57), followed by his son Ebrahim, extending momentarily as far north as Darband, but failing to maintain their position in Āzarbāijan and Arrān under pressure from the Rawwadids of Tabrīz. It was during the Mosaferids’ rule in Arrān that the Scandinavian Rūs mounted their celebrated raid up the Kur valley to Barda’a (332/943-4).
The Islamic geographers of this period give descriptions of Arrān in general and of its towns (Barda’a, Baylaqan, Ganja and Šamkur or al-Motawakkeliya) in particular, describing their agricultural fertility and their importance for commerce across the Caucasus, despite their vulnerability to attacks from the Georgians and the Rus. The Hodud al-`ālam [Footnote 8], considers Āzārbaijan, Arrān, and Armenia as the pleasantest of all the Islamic lands. It is also interesting that Ebn Hawqal [Footnote 9] speaks of “the two Arrāns,” apparently meaning Arrān proper to the south of the Kur and also Šervān to its north. The native princes of Arrān were in the later 4th/10th century and early 5th/11th century hard-pressed by the Kurdish Shaddadids established in Ganja from 360/970 onwards, who also captured the Armenian city of Dvin.
It seems that certain of the princes of Arrān tried to preserve their position by marriage alliances with the Rawwadids. Also, after this time, when the Shaddadids were in full occupation of Arrān, the Persian poet Qatrān (q.v.), who flourished in the middle decades of the 5th/11th century and was the eulogist of various Muslim potentates of Āzarbāijān and Arrān, praises the Shaddadid Amir Fazlun b. Fazl II b. Abī-Aswar (46567/ 1073-75) for his descent on the maternal side from the Bagratunis, indicating further Muslim-Christian alliances [Footnote 10]. The last known native prince of Arrān from the old families mentioned by a continuator of Movses Dasxuranc’i (3.23) is the ruler Senek’erim of Yovhannēs son of Išxan, king of the Armenian province of Siwnik` or Sisakan [Footnote 11] in the last years of the 11th century [Footnote 12].
The eastern Caucasus came under Saljuq control in the middle years of the 5th/11th century, and in ca. 468/1075-56 Ālp Arslān sent his commander `Emād’al-din Saboktagin as governor of Āzarbāijān and Arrān, displacing the last Shaddadids.
From this period begins the increasing Turkicization of Arrān, under the Saljuqs and then under the line of Eldiguzid or Ildenizid Atabegs, who had to defend eastern Transcaucasia against the attacks of the resurgent Georgian kings.
The influx of Oghuz and other Turkmens was accentuated by the Mongol invasions. Barda’a had never revived fully after the Rūs sacking, and is little mentioned in the sources. It seems to have been replaced as the capital of Arrān by Baylaqān, but this was in turn sacked by the Mongols en route for Šervān and Darband in spring 1221 [Footnote 13]; after this, Ganja (q. v.), the later Elizavetopol and now Kirovābād, rose to prominence, the southern part of Arrān now becoming known as Qarabāg (q. v.).
The old name Arrān drops out of use, and the history and fortunes of the region now merge into those of Azerbaijan (q. v.).
See also Sam’ani (Hyderabad), VI pp. 49-50 (a few `olama’ with the nesba “al-Ran!”); Yaqut (Beirut), 111, pp. 18-19; A. Manandian, Beitrage zue albanischen Geschichte, Leipzig, 1897. Markwart, Eransahr, pp. 116-19. Idem, Osteuropkische and ostasiatische Streifzuge, Leipzig, 1903, pp. 443 ff. Le Strange, Lands, pp. 176-79. J. Laurent, L’ArmMie entre Byzance et I’Islam, Paris, 1919. P. Schwarz, Iran, pp. 978ff., 1098-1100, 1139, 1144-45. V. Minorsky and Cl. Cahen, “Le recueil transcaucasien de Mas’ud b. Namdar (debut du VI’/XII` siecle),” JA, 1949, pp.93-142. Minorsky, “Caucasica. IV,” BSOAS 15, 1953, pp.504-29. Zeki Velidi Togan, “Arran,” in IA I, pp. 596-98.
Footnote 1. Armenian text ed. M. Emin, Moscow, 1860, repr. Tiflis, 1912, annotated tr. C. J. F. Dowsett, The History of the Caucasian Albanians, London, 1961.
Footnote 2. see V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvān and Darband in the 10th-11th Centuries, Cambridge, 1958, pp. 11-12; the present Udi language, surviving vestigially in Šakki, is considered to be a remnant of it.
Footnote 3. see D. M. Dunlop, The History of the Jewish Khazars, Princeton, 1954, pp. 46ff., and Minorsky, A History of Sharvan and Darband, pp. 17ff.
Footnote 4. These last being accorded by the Arabs the title of Batrig or Patricius, cf. Ya’qubi, lI, p.562.
Footnote 5. 3.12; in regard to the first two powers, probably as a result of the treaty of 685 between Justinian II and `Abd-al-Malik providing for the division between the two empires of the tribute of Armenia and Arran.
Footnote 6. see E. von Zambaur, Die Munzprfgungen des Islams, zeitlich and ordich geordnet I, Wiesbaden, 1968, p. 39; coins were also minted with the name “Arran” under the I1-khanids in the first half of the 8th/ 14th century
Footnote 7. see Minorsky, “Caucasica IV. 1. Sahl ibn-Sunbat of Shakki and Arran,” in BSOAS 15, 1953, pp.504-14.
Footnote 8. tr. Minorsky pp. 142-45, commentary pp. 396-403
Footnote 9. pp. 349, 356, tr. pp, 342, 348
Footnote 10. see Minorsky, Hodud al-`clam, pp. 396-97, and idem, Studies in Caucasian History, London, 1953, chaps. i and ii
Footnote 11. The mountainous region lying between Lake Sevan, later Turkish Gokce, and the Araxes, hence to the west of Arran, see Markwart, Eransahr, pp. 120-22, and Minorsky, op. cit., pp. 68-70.
Footnote 12. According to Brosset, ca. 1080-1105.
Footnote 13. Ĵovaynl, tr. Boyle, I, pp. 148-49.