Ṭabaristān (Persian: طبرستان) is the former name of the region between Alborz mountains and Caspian sea. Many Islamic scholars belonged to this region and were known by the surname al-Tabari, including Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari and Muhammad b. Jarir b. Rustam al-Tabari.
Natural features and being away from the center of Abbasid Caliphate, made Tabaristan one of the best sanctuaries for 'Alawis and the seat of their government. The first Iranian Shi'a government was founded in this region. After the Mongol invasion, gradually, it was called Mazandaran.
According to some historians, the early inhabitants of Tabaristan were called Tāpūr or Tapūr; so the region was called Tapūristan (the land of Tapurs), which gradually changed to Tabaristan. Others believe that in the local language Tabar means mountain and Tabaristan means the land of mountains. Some other historians have written that due to the dense forest and wildlife using tabar (axe) was common among the inhabitants; so this area was called Tabaristan.
Tabaristan is a part of the land located between the Alborz mountains and the Caspian Sea. It would cover all the province of Mazandaran, parts of the province of Golestan, north and east of the province of Tehran and north of the province of Semnan.
Impassable mountains, numerous rivers, dense forests and countless swamps are counted as the most considerable natural barriers for this land. In addition, there were only two routes connecting Tabaristan to other regions: from Amol to Gorgan and from Amol to Ray. Even though, due to the mountains, it was very difficult for merchant caravans and military troops to pass these routes. These natural barriers protected the inhabitants of Tabaristan against various attacks by the great government in Iraq and Syria.
Islam in Tabaristan
Resistance against Muslims
Years after the Muslim conquest of Iran, Tabaristan was still an independent region, which no Muslim army could conquer completely. Even during the times that Muslim armies defeated the Tabaristan army and take control of the region, the local rulers would stay in charge and just pay taxes to the central government.
- 29/649-650: A Muslim army commanded by Nu'aym b. Muqrin aiming to conquer Tabaristan, defeated the Iranian army in Vajird, a region between Hamadan and Qazvin. Although Mutha the commander of Dailamites was killed; Muslims could not conquer Tabaristan.
- 30/650-651: During the caliphate of 'Uthman, Sa'id b. al-'As was the governor of Kufa. He attacked Tabaristan from the east of the Caspian Sea and conquered Tamshiya located in the easternmost Gorgan. However, after the death of 'Uthman this region became independent again.
- 48/668: During the reign of Mu'awiya in Syria, Masqalat b. Habirat al-Shaybani claimed that he can add Tabaristan to the Muslim territory by a four-thousand army. He started the battle with Tabaristan army in 48/668. Although he scored some victories, he was eventually defeated and all his army were killed in 50/670.
- 98/716-717: During the reign of Sulayman b. 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan, Yazid b. al-Muhallab attacked Tabaristan with an army of nearly 100 thousand consisting of Arab Muslims, Turks of Transoxiana and new Muslims of Khorasan. But because of unfamiliarity with the region they were defeated; so he did not have any choice but to reconcile with the chief commander of Tabaristan. However, on his way back, he plundered Gorgan and massacred its people: beheading 40 thousand and hanging 4 thousand.
- 167/783-784: After 3 decades of Abbasid reign over Tabaristan, Vandad Hurmuz from Sukhra tribe led the rebellion against Abbasid rulers and killed many Arabs and even new Muslim of Tabaristan. After that Vandad came to power, the efforts of the Abbasid Caliph for retaking Tabaristan failed, until 'Umar b. 'Ala retook it in the fifth attack.
- 224/838-839: Maziyar - whom al-Ma'mun, the Abbasid Caliph, had converted to Islam - was the governor of Tabaristan. In 224/838-839, he revolted against the Caliph and a lot of people accompanied him. After that he came to power and claimed independence, he acted tyrannically, dismissed Muslim governors from all over Tabaristan and appointed Zoroastrian governors instead and destroyed mosques and Muslim's holy places. The Muslims of Tabaristan wrote a letter to the Caliph and Maziyar was captured and hanged in 225/839-40. Muslims again became rulers of Tabaristan; nonetheless during these years all regions in Iran were trying to gain independence; Tahirid, Saffarid and Buyid had emerged, likewise, people of Tabaristan sought independence.
After nearly two centuries of ruling Caliphs from Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, Islam could not penetrate very much in Tabaristan and Zoroastrian rulers were powerful enough to retake that region for several times from Abbasid government.
Formation of Alawi Government and Embracing Islam
- In 170/786-787, Yahya b. 'Abd Allah, a descendant of Imam al-Hasan (a), fled to Tabaristan from Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid Caliph. He was one of the first Alawis (Shi'a) who emigrated to Tabaristan and was called Yahya al-Daylami. In 175/791-792, he revolted against Harun al-Rashid and was accompanied by a lot of people. His uprising and unity of Alawis and people of Tabaristan, forced the Abbasid Caliph to send al-Fadl b. Yahya al-Barmaki to grant Yahya b. 'Abd Allah a safe conduct (a document shows that someone is under the protection of someone else) and bring him to the Caliph. Yahya b. 'Abd Allah accepted that; however, after a while, he was killed in Harun al-Rashid prison. It was after this incident that many Alawis emigrated to northern region of Iran and especially Tabaristan.
- In 250/864-865, invited by the people of Tabaristan, al-Hasan b. Zayd, famously known as al-Da'i l-Kabir, went to Tabaristan from Ray to lead their uprising against Abbasid and Tahirid. Al-Da'i al-Kabir raised to power in Tabaristan and invited people to Shi'a. In 252/866, al-Hasan b. Zayd gave the order of saying "Hayy 'ala khayr al-'amal" in Adhan and pronouncing "Bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim" loudly in daily prayers. But, his reign lasted until 260/873-874, when Ya'qub b. al-Layth al-Saffar attacked Tabaristan. Nevertheless, al-Hasan b. Zayd returned to power again 3 years later in the month of Safar 263/876 and passed away in 270/883-884. After him, his brother, Muhammad b. Zayd came to power. The time of Alawis (Tabaristan) reign was the period of general tendency towards Islam and Shi'a in Tabaristan.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from طبرستان in Farsi WikiShia.