Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar bigraphy, stories - Founder of the Saffarid dynasty at Zaranj in what is now Afghanistan

Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar : biography

840 - 879

Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar, or Ya'qub-i Laith Saffari ( his original Persian name was Rādmān pūr-i Māhak ) (October 25, 840 – June 5, 879), a Persian coppersmith,"The provincial Persian Ya'kub, on the other hand, rejoiced in his plebeian origins, denounced the Abbasids as usurpers, and regarded both the caliphs and such governors from aristocratic Arab families as the Tahirids with contempt". -- Ya'kub b. al-Layth al Saffar, C.E. Bosworth, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. XI, p 255 was the founder of the Saffarid dynasty in Sistan, with its capital at Zaranj (a city now in south-western Afghanistan). He ruled territories that are now in Iran and Afghanistan, as well as portions of western Pakistan. He was succeeded by his brother, Amr Saffari.

In Iranian folklore, Ya'qub is sometimes regarded as an Iranian Robin Hood because according to legend he stole from the wealthy and helped the poor.

Early life

Ya'qub was born in 840 in a small town called Karnin (Qarnin), which was located east of Zaranj and west of Bost, in what is now Afghanistan. Information about his genealogy and social background is lacking. Clifford Edmund Bosworth explains that a number of Sunni sources were invariably hostile to Ya'qub because of the disrespect he showed toward the Abbasid caliph. "Some sources accused Ya'qub of being a Khariji, Ibn Khallikan labelled him a Christian, and Nizam al-Mulk claimed that he converted to Ismailism".Siyasat-nama, translated by H. Darke (New Haven 1960), p. 15. However, most sources agree on Ya'qub's ascetic lifestyle.

Many sources claim that he lived a very poor life, it is mentioned that he sometimes ate bread and onions due to poverty. His family moved to the city of Zaranj due that reason as well as the occasional sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Kharijites. His father's name was Laith, who was probably killed before the family arrived to the new city. Ya'qub began work as a coppersmith ("saffar"), while his brother Amr worked as a mule-hirer.

When the Tahirid dynasty of Khorasan came south to take control of the region, Ya'qub was fighting in 852 under a local commander of Bost (now Lashkar Gah), Salih Ibn an-Nadr. After killing in a single combat a dreaded Kharijite captain named Amman, Ya'qub was promoted to the position of a commander. He decided to give himself the title Emir at that point.


Ya'qub had colic disease and was refusing treatments when advised to do so. As a result, he died on Wednesday, June 5, 879, in Gundeshapur. He was soon after succeeded by his brother Amr Saffari. Although he was not viewed as a gentleman, he also did not exercise any special cruelty. It was reported that he did not smile much, and was called "the anvil" by one his enemies. According to Ibn Khallikan, his wife was an Arab woman from Sistan, although all other sources, including Ibn Athir and Juzjani, claim that Yaqub never married.Ibn Khallikan's biographical dictionary By Ibn Khallikān, pg. 330

Saffarid dynasty

Ya'qub attracted the attention of an Abbasid caliph by first battling Kharijites in his homeland of Sistan. In 864, "Yaʿqub led an expedition to Bost against his former master Ṣāleḥ, and then into Roḵḵaj and Zamindāvar against the local ruler there, the Zunbil, killing him and securing an immense booty." His army then marched to Ghazna, Kabul, and Bamyan, conquering these territories in the name of Islam by appointing Muslim governors. From there they moved to north of the Hindu Kush and by 870 AD the whole of Khorasan was brought under their control.

In 873, Ya'qub ousted the Taharids from their own capital of Nishapur, which led to conflicts with the Abbasid caliphate. In 874, he traversed to Tabaristan and battled the Zaydi leader al-Hasan b. Zaydi. Ya'qub collected taxed in Tabaristan's capital Amul before departing for Rayy. In 875, Ya'qub again marched to Fars, though the reason behind this is unclear. In 876, the Abbasid representative Mutawaffiq, offered Ya'qub governorship of Khurasan, Tabaristan, Jurjan (Gorgan), Rayy, and also the position of sahib al-shurta (head of police) in Baghdad. Yaqub requested a personal visit with the caliph Mu'tamid before he accepted the governorships. Once the caliph had reached Baghdad, Yaqub did not pay him a personal visit as he had initially requested, but instead fought the caliph at the Battle of Dayr al-'Aqul and was defeated.B.G.Gafurov, Central Asian:Pre-historic to Pre-Modern Times, (Shipra Publications, 2005), 53-54. Yaqub then withdrew from Iraq and died three years later. He is sometimes perceived as one of the first autonomous rulers in Khurasan since the Islamic conquests.

The motivation behind the Saffarids' initial campaigns remains unknown and highly debated in secondary scholarship. Some scholars believe that Yaqub fought as a ghazi warrior for the purpose of spreading proto-Sunni Islam, others support the notion that he was motivated by his Persian identity and consequent desire to restore the glorious Sasanian past, while still others believe he was simply motivated by greed and adrenaline. During one of his numerous battles, his face was disfigured to where he could only eat through a pipe in his mouth for twenty days.

It was during his rule that Persian was introduced as an official language, and Yaqub reportedly did not know Arabic. Laith has been accorded the historical status of a popular folk hero since his court began the revitalization of the Persian language after two centuries in which the Arabic language flourished in Persian lands.

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Living octopus

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