top of page

History of Azerbaiajn

Prehistory and Antiquity / Middle Ages / Safavids, Khanates and Russian Empire / ADR / Soviet Azerbaijan/ Independent Azerbaijan


Middle Ages


Islamic conquest

Muslim Arabs defeated the Sassanids and Byzantines as they marched into the Caucasus region. The Arabs made Caucasian Albania a vassal state after the Christian resistance, led by Prince Javanshir, surrendered in 667. Between the 9th and 10th centuries, Arab authors began to refer to the region between the Kura and Aras rivers as Arran. During this time, Arabs from Basra and Kufa came to Azerbaijan and seized lands that the indigenous peoples had abandoned.

Seljuqs and successor states

The Seljuq period of Azerbaijan's history was possibly even more pivotal than the Arab conquest as it helped shape the ethno-linguistic nationality of the modern Azerbaijani Turks.

After the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate, the territory of Azerbaijan was under the sway of numerous dynasties such as the Iranian Salarids, Sajids, Shaddadids, Rawadids and Buyids. However at the beginning of the 11th century, the territory was gradually seized by waves of Oghuz Turkic tribes emanating from Central Asia. The first of these Turkic dynasties was the Ghaznavids from northern Afghanistan, who took over part of Azerbaijan by 1030. They were followed by the Seljuqs, a western branch of the Oghuz who conquered all of Iran and the Caucasus and pressed on to Iraq where they overthrew the Buyids in Baghdad in 1055.

The Seljuqs became the main rulers of a vast empire that included all of Iran and Azerbaijan until the end of the 12th century. During the Seljuq period, the influential vizier of the Seljuq sultans, Nizam ul-Mulk (a noted Persian scholar and administrator) is noted for having helped introduce numerous educational and bureaucratic reforms. His death in 1092 marked the beginning of the decline of the once well-organized Seljuq state that further deteriorated following the death of Sultan Ahmad Sanjar in 1153.

Locally, Seljuq possessions were ruled by Atabegs, who were technically vassals of the Seljuq sultans, but sometimes became de facto rulers themselves. The title of Atabeg was common during the Seljuq rule of the Middle East starting in the 12th century. Under their rule from the end of 12th to early 13th centuries, Azerbaijan emerged as an important cultural centre of the Turkic people. Palaces of the Atabeg Eldegizids (eldeniz) and the Shirvanshahs hosted distinguished people of the time, many of whom were outstanding Muslim artisans and scientists. The most famous of the Atabeg rulers was Shams al-din Eldeqiz (Eldeniz).

Under the Seljuqs, great progress was achieved in different sciences and philosophy by Iranians like Bahmanyar, Khatib Tabrizi, Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and others. Persian poets such as Nizami Ganjavi and Khaqani Shirvani, who lived in this region, epitomise the highest point in refined medieval Persian literature. In addition, the region experience a building boom and the unique of architecture of the Seljuq period is epitomized by the fortress walls, mosques, schools, mausoleums, and bridges of Baku, Ganja and Absheron which were built during the 12th century.

In 1225, Jalaleddin Kharazmshah of Khwarezmid Empire put an end to the Atabeg rule.

Mongols and Ilkhanid rule

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March 2008)
The Mongol invasion of the Middle East and Caucasus was a devastating event for Azerbaijan and most of its neighbors. From 1220, Begin beg began to pay tributes to the Mongols. Jebe and Subotai made the small state neutral. In 1231, the Mongols occupied most of Azerbaijan and killed the Khorezmshah Jalaladdin, who had overthrown the Atabeg dynasty. In 1235 the Mongols destroyed cities of Ganja, Shamkir, Tovuz, Shabran on their way to conquer Kievan Russia. By the 1236, all of Transcaucasia was in the hands of Ogedei khan.

The end of Mongol rule and the Kara Koyunlu-Agh Koyunlu rivalry

The last Il-khanid ruler, Abu Sa'id, died without an heir which led to the Ilkhan state's disintegration into small sultanates. The next state in the territory of Azerbaijan, in the 1330s, was that of the Jalayirids, who ruled Iraq, western Persia, and most of Azerbaijan. The Jalayirid Sultanate lasted about fifty years, until it was disrupted by Tamerlane's conquests and the revolts of the Kara Koyunlu (Qara Qoyunlu) also known as 'Black Sheep Turks'.

The first Jalayirid ruler was Hasan Buzurg (d. 1356) who ascended the throne in Tabriz in 1337. His son Shaikh Uvais defeated his most serious potential rivals, the Chobanids (descendants of Amir Coban) to consolidate his rule. He reigned over Azerbaijan from 1360 to 1374 during a period of peace and stability. After the rule of the weak Sultan Husain, the Jalayirid state declined.

Tamerlane (Amir Timur) launched a devastating invasion of Azerbaijan in the 1380s, and temporarily incorporated Azerbaijan into his vast domain that spanned much of Eurasia. The Shirvanshah state under Shirvanshah Ibrahim I were also vassals of Timur and assisted Timur in his war with the Mongol ruler Tokhtamysh of the Golden Horde. Azerbaijan experienced social unrest and religious strife during this period due to sectarian conflict initiated by Hurufi, Bektashi and other movements.

Following Timur's death in 1405, his fourth son Shah-Rukh came to power and reigned until 1446. To the west of Shah-Rukh's domain two new rival Turkic states emerged – the Kara Koyunlu based around Lake Van and the Ak Koyunlu (or White Sheep Turks) centred around Diyarbakır. Initially, it was the Kara Koyunlu who were ascendant when their chief Kara Yusuf overcame Sultan Ahmad, the last of Jalayirids, and conquered lands south of Azerbaijan in 1410, establishing his capital at Tabriz. Under Jahan-Shah, the Kara Koyunlu expanded their territory into central Iran and as far east as Khurasan. Later, however, the Ak Koyunlu came into greater prominence under Uzun Hasan, overcoming Jahan-Shah and the Qara Qoyunlu in 1468. Uzun Hasan ruled all of Iran, Azerbaijan and Iraq until his death in 1478. Both Ak Koyunlu and Kara Koyunlu, continued the Timurid tradition of generous patrons of literature, poetry and the arts as the renowned Islamic miniature paintings of Tabriz illustrate.



The Shirvanshahs

Shīrwān Shāh or Sharwān Shāh, was the title in mediaeval Islamic times of a Persianized dynasty of Arabic origin. The Shirvanshah established a native Azeri state and were rulers of Shirvan, a historical region in present-day Azerbaijan. The Shirvanshahs established the longest Islamic dynasty in the Islamic world.

The role of the Shirvanshah state was important in the national development of Azerbaijan. The Shirvanshahs maintained a high degree of autonomy as local rulers and vassals from 861 until 1539, and provided a continuity that lasted longer than any other dynasty in the Islamic world. There are two periods of an independent Shirvan state: first in the 12th century, under Sultans Manuchehr and Axsitan who built the stronghold of Baku, and second in the 15th century under the Derbendid dynasty. Between the 13th and 14th centuries, the Shirvanshahs were vassals of the Mongol and Timurid empires.

The Shirvanshahs Khalilullah I and Farrukh Yassar presided over a highly stable period in the history of the dynasty. The architectural complex of the "Shirvanshah palace" in Baku (that was also a burial site of the dynasty) and the Halwatiyya Sufi Khaneqa were built during the reign of these two rulers in the mid-15th century. The Shirvanshah rulers were more or less Orthodox Sunni, and thus opposed the heterodox Shi'a Islam of the Safavid Sufi order. In 1462 Shaykh Junayd, the leader of Safavids was killed in battle against Shirvanishans, near the town of Gusar (he was buried in the village Hazra) – an event that shaped subsequent Safavid actions leading to a new phase in the history of Azerbaijan.


Natioanl museum of history of Azerbaijan:


Prehistory and Antiquity / Middle Ages / Safavids, Khanates and Russian Empire / ADR / Soviet Azerbaijan/ Independent Azerbaijan

bottom of page