The Ashtarkhanid Rulers of Bukhara

Iraj Bashiri

Copyright, Bashiri, 2000

Stemming from the line of Jochi Khan, Chingiz Khan's eldest son, the Ashtarkhanids ruled in Ma Wara' al-Nahr (Transoxiana) and Khurasan between 1599 and 1753. Between 1380 when the Golden Horde was dissolved and the annexation of the region to the north of the Caspian by Russia in 1552, they had ruled Astarakhan complementing the territories of the Crimean Tatars, and the Khanate of Kazan. Now they had their eyes on the rich lands of the Shaibanids to the south.

Around the year 1599, one of the Ashtarkhanids, known variously as Janimuhammad or Janibek Sultan, emigrated to Bukhara. There he married into the ruling family of Bukhara, the Shaibanids, another line descending from Jochi Khan. The establishment of this new family tie further strengthened Janibek Sultan's eligibility for the rulership of the kingdom.

Upon the death of Abdulmu'min, the last Shaibanid ruler, the Bukharans offered the rulership of their kingdom to Janibek Sultan; he refused the offer. His son, Boqimuhammad, however, accepted the Bukharans' offer and was installed as the first Ashtarkhanid ruler of Bukhara. Hence, the dynasty has two names. It is generically referred to as the Ashtarkhanids. But more specifically it is referred to as the Janis, a reference to Janibek Sultan, the true founder of Ashtarkhanid rule in Bukhara.

The boundaries of the Ashtarkhanid kingdom consisted of Turkistan to the north, the Khanate of Khiva to the west, and the territory of Merv to the south. The capital of the kingdom was the city of Bukhara. Balkh, its major city, which included Tirmidh, Qabodian, and Kulab, was the seat of the crown prince. Other cities of the kingdom in the south were Qunduz, Faizabad, and Shabirqan.

Date of Accession Name of the Ruler
1599 Boqimuhammad
1605 Valimuhammad
1611 Imomqulikhan
1642 Nodirmuhammad
1645 Abduazizkhan
1680 Subhonqulikhan
1702 Ubaidullakhan
1711 Abulfaizkhan

Boqimuhammad (1599-1605)

The date of birth of Boqimuhammad is unknown. He died in 1605. Upon the murder of the last Shaibanid ruler, Abdulmu'min, Boqimuhammad ascended the throne of Bukhara and established a new dynasty, the Ashtarkhanid rulers of Bukhara. As a first order of business, he adjusted the foreign and domestic policies of his kingdom so that they would benefit the landlords and the merchants who had propelled him to his high position. And to implement these policies, he strengthened his military and introduced a new system of taxation. The series of reforms thus launched placed a great deal of undue pressure on the people of Bukhara, especially on the Kazakh and Karakalpak tribes to the north. In the long run, Boqimuhammad's rash policy decisions destroyed the good relationship that had persuaded the Bukharans to choose him as their ruler. Most of Boqimuhammad's rule, therefore, was spent on putting down rebellions.

Valimuhammadkhan (1605-1611)

The date of birth of Valimuhammadkhan is unknown. At the time of the ascension of his brother, Boqimuhammad, to the throne of Bukhara, he had been awarded the governorship of Balkh (1599). After Boqimuhammad's death, he ascended the throne of Bukhara (1605). His rule, however, was opposed by the merchants and the landlords who supported their own candidate for the throne, Imomqulikhan. Learning that the nobles have been plotting to assassinate him, Valimuhammad and his two sons fled to Iran to seek the support of Shah Abbas. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Shah Abbas equipped Valimuhammad with an army and sent him back to Bukhara. Valimuhammad was killed in Bukhara in the course of the conflicts that ensued (1611).

Imomqulikhan (1611-1642)

Imomqulikhan, son of Dinmuhammadkhan (1589-1650) ruled Bukhara between 1611 and 1642. Two years after his ascension to the throne (1613), Imomqulikhan captured Tashkent by defeating the restive Kazakh tribes. He then appointed his own son, Iskandar, the governor of the region. Iskandar, however, was not acceptable to the people of Tashkent who, unable to carry the burden of his heavy taxation, rebelled and killed him. Angered by the murder of his son, Imomqulikhan gathered a large army composed primarily of Balkhis--Balkh at the time was ruled by his brother, Nodirmuhammad, and Nodirmuhammad's sons--and Badakhshanis and devastated Tashkent. While in the region, Imomqulikhan also routed the Oirat and the Karakalpak tribes that had been encroaching on Transoxiana for quite some time.

Towards the end of his life, Imomqulikhan became blind. Unable to attend to the affairs of state, he handed the reins of power to his brother, Nodirmuhammad (1642). He himself made a pilgrimage to Mecca where he died.


The dates of birth and death of Nodirmuhammad are not known. Although one of the richest of the Amirs of the region, Nodirmuhammad inherited a turbulent kingdom from his father. During his short reign of three years, the Kazakhs invaded Bukhara and proceeded as far as Khujand. To stop them, Nodirmuhammad sent an army commanded by his own son, Abdulaziz, against the Kazakhs.

In Khujand, however, matters assumed a totally different shape. Abdulaziz was proclaimed Khan. Forced by circumstances, Nodirmuhammad left Bukhara for Balkh, allowing Abdulaziz to enter Bukhara uncontested.

Nodirmuhammad, not intending to give up Bukhara easily, sought the support of the ruler of India, Shah Jahan. But Shah Jahan, rather than helping Nodirmuhammad, mobilized an army commanded by his sons Murudbakhsh and Aurangzeib, invaded Balkh, and defeated Nodirmuhammad and annexed Balkh for the next two years.

Threatened once again, Nodirmuhammad escaped to Iran and sought assistance from Shah Abbas II. Shah Abbas procrastinated. After a stay of two and a half years at the court of the Persian king, Nodirmuhammad became convinced that no assistance for the restoration of his kingdom was forthcoming.

On the other hand, by this time, Abdulaziz engaged the Indians in battle and defeated them. He then invited his brother, Nodirmuhammad, to return to Bukhara and serve as the governor of Balkh. Nodirmuhammad accepted the offer and returned from Iran.

The sudden appointment of Nodirmuhammad to the governorship of Balkh, prompted his sons to unite against him. A major family conflict was inevitable. To calm the situation, Abdulaziz appointed, Subhadqolikhan, his own son, the governor of Balkh (1654). Having lost his kingdom for a third time, Nodirmuhammad left Balkh, this time for good. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca and died on the way.

Abdulazizkhan (1645-1680)

Abdulazizkhan's dates of birth and death are unknown. Son of Nodirmuhammad, he was elevated to the rulership of Ashtarkhanid Bukhara by the dissatisfied beks of the region who expelled Nodirmuhammad from Bukhara in 1645. Abdulazizkhan's ascension to the throne was challenged by a supporter of Nodirmuhammad, India's Shah Jahan, who stormed Balkh and took over that region. In 1647, Abdulazizkhan defeated Shah Jahan, restored Balkh and appointed his own brother, Subhanqulikhan, as its governor. Before long, the brothers themselves were steeped in conflict over the rulership of Bukhara. Their conflict weakened Bukhara to the point that the Khans of Khiva, Abulqazi and Anushakhan, extended their domains to almost the city of Bukhara. To rid himself of their threat, In 1657, Abdulazizkhan defeated Abulqazi permanently but Anushakhan remained at large, powerful and belligerent.

Abulqazi's inability to defeat the Khivans once and for all decreased his credibility in the eyes of the Bukharans. Unable to manage the affairs of the kingdom, he was forced to step down in favor of his brother, Subhanqulikhan, in 1680.

During Abdulazizkhan's rule firm political and commercial relations were established between Bukhara and his neighbors, especially Russia, India, and Iran.

Subhanqulikhan (1680-1702)

Subhanqulikhan was born in 1625. At the time of his ascension to the throne, Bukhara was engaged in a prolonged war with Khiva. Realizing the threat that the Khivans had created for the region as a whole, Subhanqulikhan sought the assistance of the ruler of Badakhshan; together, they pushed the army of Khiva out of Bukharan territory. He also brought Khujand and Hissar that had seceded from Bukharan rule to the fold. In 1681, he invaded Balkh, killed his own son and put down the rebellion that he had instigated.

Little is known about Subhanqulikhan's personality other than that he composed poetry using "Nishani" as his takhallus.

Ubaidullakhan (1702-1711)

The date of birth of Ubaidullakhan is unknown. He died in 1711 in Bukhara. Little is known about his rule other than that he tried ceaselessly to weaken the local governors with little success. He also paid a great deal of attention to the establishment of internal and external commercial relations. His downfall is tied to his 1708 reform of the treasury which caused a great deal of unhappiness among the Bukharan populace, an unhappiness that, eventually, led to an uprising against him.

Ubaidullakhan's main concern, however, was the sudden rise in the power of the Uzbek tribesmen. Whether he became a victim of that power when he tried to curtail Uzbek authority is not known.

Abulfaizkhan (1711-1747)

Abdulfaizkhan's rule saw two major changes in the structure of Ashtarkhanid Bukhara. First, the region of Samarqand seceded from Bukhara and distinguished itself as an independent center. Second, in the Ferghana Valley, Qoqand broke away and declared itself an independent khanate.

All this was happening because of two men, the Manghit tribal chief Hakimbai Atalik, who literally ruled Bukhara in spite of Abulfaizkhan; and Iran's Nadir Shah, who supported Hakimbai Atalik's activities in Bukhara. In fact, in 1740, Nadir Shah had captured Bukhara but had decided, for political reasons, to keep Abulfaizkhan on its throne. In subsequent years, he promoted Rahimbii, Hakimbai's son, and placed him to take over from Abulfaizkhan.

In 1753, Muhammadrahimbii murdered Abulfaizkhan and established the dynasty that came to be known as the Manghit rulers of Bukhara.

Ashtarkhanid Society

The Ashtarkhanid society was feudalistic to the core. It was ruled by khans who held absolute power over all others. Local government was in the hands of the sultans who, more often than not were in conflict with either their own people or with the khans of Bukhara. The conflicts among the khans and the sultans, of course, often ended in the plunder and destruction of the property of the people of the region.

Below the rank of the sultans were the amirs, otherwise known as the chiefs of the tribes living within the territory of the khan. By awarding parcels of land to tribal chiefs, the Ashtarkhanids had created a special military aristocracy on which they drew for furthering their plans and programs.

Bukharan society under the Ashtarkhanids was divided among nomadic and settled populations. The tribes were ruled through their chiefs who participated in a council of chiefs headed by the khan. The only time that the settled and the nomadic population met, except for chance meetings in the market place, was when the chiefs contributed warriors for the defense of the realm. The settled population lived mostly in villages and towns. The urban population consisted of government officials, ishans, spiritual leaders including shaykh al-Islams, qazis, ra'ises, and muftis.

The internal structure of the Ashtarkhanid government was simple. It consisted of the Khan, a prime minister, a chief judge, and a chief of police. Lower levels of the administration were staffed by the government officials and the spiritual leaders mentioned above.

The nongovernment population consisted of the notables of Bukhara, farmers, workers, and slaves. The notables were primarily merchants and land owners who held the economic pulse of Bukhara in their hands. The farmers and the workers paid most of the heavy taxes levied in exchange for providing security. The slaves did not own any land and, therefore, were not entitled to any rights.

Absolute power was in the hand of the khan and was based on ownership of land. All Bukharan land, by right of conquest, belonged to the court. The khan parceled out the land and gave it to the chiefs of tribes (amirs) in exchange for military support in time of need. Along with the land, the chief was also given water rights and right to the lives of the farmers, workers, and slaves who worked the land.

The balance of power was maintained by increasing and decreasing the amount of land, water right, and the number of farmers, workers, and slaves given to a particular chief. The khan was particularly wary of amirs who, using the khan's own resources, become strong enough to either topple him or assist his enemies. As a result of the perennial struggle for power within Bukhara, the khans of Khiva invaded Bukhara several times. In addition, there were several rebellions against the khan led by the sons or brothers of the ruler himself.

In the same manner that the Bukharans had assisted the Ashtarkhanids displace the Shaibanids, Nadir Shah of Iran assisted the Manghit tribe to overthrow the Ashtarkhanids and assume the throne of Bukhara.

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