Cultural History: Azerbaijan: Medieval Period
The Medieval Period in Azerbaijan saw the arrival and growth of Islamic culture, continuation of political upheaval, economic gains, and a flourishing intellectual environment whereby advances were made in the sciences and arts. In the middle of the 7th century, prior to Arabian advancement, the Mihranid Dynasty of Caucasian Albania dominated in Azerbaijan. This dynasty also reported to the Iranian Shahs – Sasanian overloards. The Mihranids supported the Sasanians in fights against the Arabian conquerors during the 7th century. This support continued when the Arabian conquerors defeated the Sasanians completely and put an end to the dictatorship of the Sasanians over Iran and the South Caucasus. Finally, the Mihranids formed a military alliance with the Arab Islamic Caliphate. In the 9th century in Azerbaijan under the leadership of Babek, the Mihranids started a great struggle to break free from Arab rule which lasted for 20 years.
During this period certain portions of Azerbaijan began to be recognized as Arran. Yet during this period many Arabs also settled in Azerbaijan and became part of the ruling elite. Many of the local Christian and Zoroastrian populace slowly converted to Islam, although Christian communities are thought to have survived well into the Medieval Period. Upon the elimination of Arabian domination, local state authorities were established in Azerbaijan. Of them, the State of Sajiler connected all the historical lands of Azerbaijan for the first time. The State of Shirvanshahs, the center of which was Shamakhi, existed circa 1,000 years AD.
During the 10th and 11th centuries AD, the Shaddadids and Ravvadids dominated portions of what is now Azerbaijan. Over time, the Seljuk Empire, which expanded from Central Asia to the Aegean Sea, subjegated Iran and the southern Caucasus as well. Under the local sway of atabegs (governors) who ruled from their capital of Shamakhi, Azerbaijan played significant cultural and economic roles during the Seljuk period. For example, the great poets Khaghani and Nizami gained fame well beyond Azerbaijan, and continue to be revered for their eloquence and skill. Large cultural and commercial centers such as Ganja, Beylagan, Tabriz, Nakhchivan, Shamakhi, and Shamkir, each with populations in the tens of thousands, were developed during this period.
Seljuk domination of the territory of Azerbaijan came to an end during the early 13th century AD, under pressure from Mongols who were moving in from Central Asia. In 1235, they and the Tartars destroyed many of the key cities in Azerbaijan, such as Ganja and Shamkir, and incorporated Azerbaijan into the Mongol Empire. Subsequent unrest followed an invasion by the forces of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) in the late 14th century. It was at this time that the Garagoyunlu and Aghgoyunlu states managed to subjugate surrounding regions. At the beginning of the 16th century, Shah Ismayil established the Azerbaijan Safavid State and Tabriz became its capital. Developing rapidly, this state connected all political bodies from Central Asia to the Mediterranean Sea and evolved into a mighty empire.
Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography and Azerbaijan’s National Academy of Sciences, have conducted archaeological excavations in a number of villages dating back to the Medieval Period, including Girag Kasaman in the Agstafa district, Dashbulag in the Shamkir district and Fakhrali in the Goranboy district. These archaeological sites create opportunities for understanding the economic activity, burial and domestic practices, inter-regional trade networks, and historical understanding of the Islamic period in Azerbaijan. They also augmented understanding of domestic activities and burial practices, as well as economic relations and transportation routes along the Silk Road, as revealed by the trade goods and fine crafts recovered. The continuity of occupation at many of these sites may reflect an unusual degree of cultural stability, in spite of the political turmoil of the period.
Extensive excavations dating to the Medieval Period were conducted in cities of Azerbaijan during the second half of the twentieth century, but there were no thorough investigations of villagetype settlements. That gap was addressed to some extent by the archaeological excavations conducted within the pipelines corridor. The "Site Overviews" section of this website reviews some of these sites in detail.
This section on “Azerbaijan” is authored solely by candidate of history science Najaf Museyibli.
O.Эфендиев. Азербайджанское государство Сефевидов в начале XVI века, Баку, 1981.
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