Daylamites or Dailamites (Middle Persian: Daylamīgān; Persian:
دیلمیان Deylamiyān) were an Iranian people inhabiting the
Daylam—the mountainous regions of northern
Iran on the southern
shore of the Caspian Sea. They were employed as soldiers from the
time of the Sasanian Empire, and long resisted the Muslim conquest of
Persia and subsequent Islamization. In the 930s, the Daylamite Buyid
dynasty emerged and managed to gain control over much of modern-day
Iran, which it held until the coming of the Seljuq Turks in the
1 Origins, language and equipment
2.1 Pre-Islamic period
2.1.1 Seleucid and Parthian period
2.1.2 Sasanian period
2.2 Islamic period
2.2.1 Resistance to the Arabs
2.2.2 The Daylamite expansion
3.3 Customs, equipment and appearance
Origins, language and equipment
Daylamites lived in the highlands of Daylam, part of the Alborz
range, between Gilan and Tabaristan. However, the earliest Zoroastrian
and Christian sources indicate that the
Daylamites originally came
Anatolia near the Tigris, where Iranian ethnolinguistic
groups, including Zazas, live today. They spoke the Daylami
language, a now-extinct northwestern Iranian variety similar to that
of the neighbouring Gilites. During the Sasanian Empire, they were
employed as high-quality infantry. According to the Byzantine
Procopius and Agathias, they were a warlike people and
skilled in close combat, being armed each with a sword, a shield and
spears or javelins.
Seleucid and Parthian period
Daylamites first appear in historical records in the late second
century BCE, where they are mentioned by Polybius, who erroneously
calls them Ἐλυμαῖοι ("Elamites") instead of
Δελυμαῖοι ("Daylamites"). In the
Middle Persian prose
Kar-Namag i Ardashir i Pabagan,
Artabanus V of Parthia
Artabanus V of Parthia (r. 208–224)
summoned all the troops from Ray, Damavand, Daylam, and Padishkhwargar
to fight the newly established Sasanian Empire. According to the
Letter of Tansar, during this period, Daylam, Gilan, and Ruyan
belonged to the kingdom of Gushnasp, who was a Parthian vassal but
later submitted to Sasanian emperor
Ardashir I (r. 224–242).
Rudkhan Castle, constructed in
Daylam during the Sasanian Empire.
Daylam (far right) under the Sasanian Empire.
The descendants of Gushnasp were still ruling until in ca. 520, when
Kavadh I (r. 488-531) appointed his eldest son, Kawus, as the king of
the former lands of the Gushnaspid dynasty. In 522,
Kavadh I sent
an army under a certain Buya (known as Boes in Byzantine sources)
against Vakhtang I of Iberia. This Buya was a native of Daylam, which
is proven by the fact that he bore the title wahriz, a Daylamite title
also used by Khurrazad, the Daylamite military commander who conquered
Yemen in 570 during the reign of
Khosrow I (r. 531-579), and his
Daylamite troops would later play a significant role in the conversion
Yemen to the nascent Islam. The 6th-century Byzantine historian
Procopius described the
"barbarians who live...in the middle of Persia, but have never become
subject to the king of the Persians. For their abode is on sheer
mountainsides which are altogether inaccessible, and so they have
continued to be autonomous from ancient times down to the present day;
but they always march with the Persians as mercenaries when they go
against their enemies. And they are all foot-soldiers, each man
carrying a sword and shield and three javelins in his hand (De Bello
Daylamites also took part in the siege of Archaeopolis in 552. They
supported the rebellion of
Bahrām Chōbin against Khosrow II, but he
later employed an elite detachment of 4000
Daylamites as part of his
A Daylamite soldier.
Some Muslim sources maintain that following the Sasanian defeat in the
Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, the 4000-strong Daylamite contingent of the
Sasanian guard, along with other Iranian units, defected to the Arab
side, converting to Islam.
Resistance to the Arabs
Map of the Caspian coast of
Iran during the Iranian Intermezzo.
View of the Alamut Castle.
Siege of Alamut 1213-1214, depicted in the
Jami' al-tawarikh by
Rashid-al-Din Hamadani. Bibliothèque Nationale de France,
Département des Manuscrits, Division Orientale.
Daylamites managed to resist the Arab invasion of their own
mountainous homeland for several centuries under their own local
rulers. Warfare in the region was endemic, with raids and
counter-raids by both sides. Under the Arabs, the old Iranian
Qazvin continued in its Sasanian-era role as a
bulwark against Daylamite raids. According to the historian al-Tabari,
Turkic peoples were considered the worst enemies of the
Arab Muslims. The
Abbasid Caliphate penetrated the region and
occupied parts of it, but their control was never very effective.
During the reign of Harun al-Rashid, several Shi'i Muslims fled to the
Daylamites, most of whom remained pagan, with a few Zoroastrians and
Christians, to escape persecution. Among these refugees were some
Alids, who began the gradual conversion of the
Daylamites to Shia
Islam. Nevertheless, a strong Iranian identity remained
ingrained in the peoples of the region, along with an anti-Arab
mentality. Local rulers such as the Buyids and the Ziyarids, made a
point of celebrating old Iranian and Zoroastrian festivals.
The Daylamite expansion
In the mid ninth-century, need increased in the
Abbasid Caliphate for
mercenary soldiers in the
Royal Guard and the army, thus they began
recruiting Daylamites, who although during this period were not as
strong in numbers as the Turks, Khorasanis, the Farghanis, and the
Egyptian Arab tribesmen of the Maghariba. From 912/3 to 916/7, a
Daylamite soldier, Ali ibn Wahsudhan, was chief of police (ṣāḥib
Isfahan during the reign of al-Muqtadir (r.
908–929). For many decades, "it remained customary for the Caliph's
personal guards to include the
Daylamites as well as the ubiquitous
The name of the king Muta sounds uncommon, but when in the 9th and
10th centuries Daylamite chieftains appear in the spotlight in massive
numbers, their names are undoubtedly pagan Iranian, not of the
south-western “Persian” type, but of the north-western type: thus
Gōrāngēj (not Kūrānkīj, as originally interpreted) corresponds
to Persian gōr-angēz “chaser of wild asses”, Shēr-zil to
Shēr-dil “lion’s heart”, etc. The medieval Persian geographer
Estakhri differentiates between Persian and Daylami and comments that
in the highlands of
Daylam there was a tribe that spoke a language
different from that of
Daylam and Gilan, perhaps a surviving
Daylamites were most likely adherents of some form of Iranian
paganism, while a minority of them were Zoroastrian and Christian.
According to al-Biruni, the
Daylamites and Gilites "lived by the rule
laid down by the mythical Afridun." The
Church of the East
Church of the East had
spread among them due to the activities of John of Dailam, and
bishoprics are reported in the remote area as late as the 790s, while
it is possible that some remnants survived there until the 14th
Customs, equipment and appearance
Artistic rendering of a Daylamite Buyid infantryman.
Picture of a rainforest in Daylam.
Many habits and customs of the
Daylamites have been recorded in
historical records. Their men were strikingly tough and capable of
lasting terrible privations. They were armed with javelins and battle
axes, and had tall shields painted in gray colours. In battle, they
would usually form a wall with their shields against the attackers.
Daylamites would use javelins with burning naphtha. A poetic
portrayal of Daylamite armed combat is present in Fakhruddin As'ad
Gurgani's Vis and Rāmin. A major disadvantage of the
the low amount of cavalry that they had, which compelled them to work
with Turkic mercenaries.
Daylamites exaggeratedly mourned over their dead, and even over
themselves in failure. In 963, the Buyid ruler of Iraq, Mu'izz
Mourning of Muharram
Mourning of Muharram in Baghdad, which may have
played a part in the evolution of the ta'zieh.
Estakhri describes the
Daylamites as a bold but inconsiderate people,
being thin in appearance and having fluffy hair. They practised
agriculture and had herds, but only a few horses. They also grew rice,
fished, and produced silk textiles. According to al-Muqaddasi, the
Daylamites were handsome and had beards. According to the author of
the Hudud al-'Alam, the Daylamite women took part in agriculture like
men. According to Rudhrawari, they were "equals of men in strength of
mind, force of character, and participation in the management of
affairs." Furthermore, the
Daylamites also strictly
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