The Afrighids (r. 305–995 CE; Persian: آفریغیان - آل آفریغ) were a native Khwarezmian Iranian[1][2][3] dynasty who ruled over the ancient kingdom of Khwarezm. Over time, they were under the suzerainty of the Sasanian Empire, the Hephthalite Empire, the Göktürk Khaganate, the Umayyad Caliphate, Abbasid Caliphate and the Samanid Empire.

Afrighid dynasty

Map showing the territory ruled by the Afrighid dynasty (highlighted in green), abutting the southern shore of the (former) Aral Sea
Common languagesKhwarezmian language, Middle Persian
Zoroastrianism, later Islam in the 9th century.[1]
Afrig (first)
Abu 'Abdallah Muhammad (last)
Historical eraMiddle Ages
 Ma'munid conquest of Khwarezm.
Succeeded by


Al-Biruni, the native Khwarezmian scholar, mentions twenty-two members of the Afrighid dynasty for a total span of 690 years with an average rule of 31 years for each ruler.[4] According to him, the Afrighids ruled from 305 CE, through the Arab conquests under Qotayba b. Moslem in 93/712, and up to their overthrow in 385/995 by the rising rival family of Ma'munids. The main source on the Afrighids prior to Islam is also Al-Biruni. Part of the reason for the gap in information about this dynasty is mentioned by Al-Biruni.

Al-Biruni states:

When Qutaibah bin Moslem under the command of Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf was sent to Khwarazmia with a military expedition and conquered it for the second time, he swiftly killed whoever wrote in the Khwarazmian native language and knew of the Khwarazmian heritage, history, and culture. He then killed all their Zoroastrian priests and burned and wasted their books, until gradually the illiterate only remained, who knew nothing of writing, and hence the region's history was mostly forgotten.


It has been suggested that 'Afrigh' is the Arabicized of 'Abriz' in Persian (آبریز where water flows, a reference to the geography of Khwarazm and its abundant water). However, Dr. Parviz Azkai, in his annotations on Al-Biruni's Chronology of Ancient Nations, explains that this is a popular etymology. Azkai explains that Afrigh was originally Ap-Air-ig meaning from the Aryan descent: ap or af is the same in 'afrashtan' (Persian: افراشتن) to raise; air is the root meaning Aryan as seen in Iraj, and Eran/Iran (land of Aryan); and -ig is the suffix of relation in Iranian languages and cognate to '-ic' in English or '-ique' in French.


The fortress of Ayaz Kala 2 was built during the Afrighid period, in the 6th to 8th century CE

The ancient Iranian kingdom of Khwarazm had been ruled until 995 by the old established line of Afrighids of Kath. Khwarazm was the well irrigated and rich agricultural region of lower Oxus. Surrounded on all sides by steppe land and desert, it was geographically isolated from other areas of civilization. This isolation allowed it to maintain a separate distinctive Iranian language and culture.[3] Khwarazm was one of the early areas of Iranian civilization, and the local Khwarezmian historian, Al-Biruni traces civilization there beyond the first millennium BC.[3] Before the 8th century, there had only been few ineffectual Arab raids on the fringes of Khwarezm from the directions of Khorasan and Transoxania. But in 712, Qutayba ibn Muslim was able to intervene in a civil war between the Afrighid Shah and his brother Khorrazad. Two Arab invasions lead to much destruction as Al-Biruni notes. Once the Arabs withdrew from their raid, the Shahs recovered power in Khwarezm and they continued to adhere to their ancestral faith, which according to Al-Biruni was Zoroastrianism. The local shahs continued to ally with local Iranian princes, Soghdian merchants and even Turks and Chinese in order to resist the Arabs.[1]

Silver bowl from Khwarezm depicting a four-armed goddess seated on a lion, possibly Nana. Dated 658, British Museum.[5]
Ossuary Lid, Tok-Kala Necropolis, Alabaster. 7th-8th century CE

It thus came vaguely under Muslim suzerainty, but it was not until the end of the 8th century or the beginning of the 9th century that an Afrighid was first converted to Islam appearing with the popular convert's name of ‘Abdallah (Servant of God). In the course of the 10th century, the local family of the Ma'munids who were based in Gurganj, on the left bank of the Oxus grew in economic and political importance due to trade caravans. In 995, they violently overthrew the Afrighids of Kath and themselves assumed the traditional title of the Khwarazm Shah. Briefly, the area was under Samanid suzerainty, before it passed to Mahmud of Ghazna. From then on, Turco-Mongolian invasions and long rule by Turco-Mongol dynasties supplanted the Iranian character of the region[3] although the title of Khwarizm Shah was maintained well up to the 15th century.[3]


It is generally agreed that the Afrighids were Zoroastrians until the reign of Abdallah ibn Torkasbatha during the 9th century. However, their Zoroastrian beliefs differed from those held in Iran and consisted of a mixture of an idiosyncratic, local, Khwarazmian form of Zoroastrianism and ancient Iranian paganism. The Khwarazmians, like their Sogdian relatives, also performed sacrifices and other rituals dedicated to the Iranian mythological hero Siyavash whom (according to Tolstov in his seminal work Ancient Khwarezm [6]) they appear to have worshipped as a Central Asian dying-and-rising vegetation deity (compare, for example, the Egyptian god Osiris) and the Canaanite god Ba'al). [7][8][9]

Names of rulers

Only consonants of the pre-Islamic names are known with long vowels, since in Arabic script, the short vowels are not written and diacritic signs are used to clarify when required. After the conversion of 'Abdallah, all the names except possibly 'Eraq are Arabic and their pronunciation is known. Unfortunately, the manuscripts that have also come down have also suffered some corruption due to scribal errors,[1] since the Khwarezmian names were incomprehensible for most non-natives. Al-Biruni himself utilizes the extra letters of Khwarezmian which were not used in Arabic writings.

More is known about the dynasty in the Islamic era after the beginning of the 8th century and their conversion to Islam.

Name of the rulers given by the native Khwarezmian speaker Al-Biruni, and modern scholars.[1][10]

Coin of Coin of Bravik, also named Fravik, 7th century, Khwarazm
Coin of Sawashfan.
Coin of Azkajwar-Abdallah
  1. Afrig (died 4th century)
  2. Baghra
  3. Biwarsar I (r. 3rd quarter of the 4th century)
  4. Kawi
  5. Biwarsar II
  6. Sahhasak
  7. Askajamuk I
  8. Azkajwar I
  9. Sahr I
  10. Shaush
  11. Hamgari
  12. Buzgar
  13. Arsamuh (r. during the time of the prophet Muhammad, around 600)
  14. Sahr II
  15. Sabri
  16. Azkajwar II (r. late 7th century — 712)
  17. Khusrau (r. 712)
  18. Askajamuk II (r. 712–?)
  19. Sawashfan (8th century)
  20. Torkasbatha
  21. Azkajwar-Abdallah (r. after 762/before 787 – 820s)
  22. Mansur ibn Abdallah
  23. Eraq ibn Mansur
  24. Muhammad ibn Eraq (died 10th century)
  25. Abu Sa'id Ahmad
  26. Abu 'Abdallah Muhammad (r. 967–995, the year he was killed)


  1. Bosworth, C. E. "ĀL-E AFRĪḠ". Encyclopædia Iranica. Columbia University. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
  2. C.E. Bosworth, "The Ghaznavids" in History of Civilization: Central Asia in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume IV: The Age of Achievement : A.D. 750 to the End of the Fifteenth Century : Part One : The Historical Social and Economic Setting/edited by M.S. Asimov and C.E. Bosworth. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1999, 485 pages. (Vol. IV, Pt. I). ISBN 81-208-1595-5. Excerpt from page 101: "The ancient Iranian kingdom of Khwarazm had been ruled until 995 by the old established line of Afrighids of Kath, but control subsequently passed to the new line of Khwarazm Shahs, the Ma'munids of Gurganj"
  3. Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual, Columbia University, 1996.
  4. Encyclopedia Iranica, "ĀL-E AFRĪḠ (Afrighid dynasty)" by C. E. Bosworth
  5. British Museum Collection
  6. Tolstov, S. Ancient Khorezm Древний Хорезм: Опыт историко-археологического исследования. М. 1948. Retrieved at 11.54 on 11/6/21.
  7. С.П. Толстов, «По следам древнехорезмийской цивилизации», Издательство Академии Наук СССР, 1948
  8. Alymov, Sergey (26 August 2009). "Космополитизм, марризм и прочие "грехи": отечественные этнографы и археологи на рубеже 1940—1950-х годов" (in Russian). Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  9. Corrente, Paola. 2012. "Dioniso y los Dying gods: paralelos metodológicos". PhD thesis, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
  10. L. Massignon, "Al-Biruni et la valeur internationale de la science arabe" in Al-Biruni Commemoration Volume, (Calcutta, 1951). pp 217-219. excerpt: In a celebrated preface to the book of Drugs, Biruni says: It is through the Arabic language that the sciences have been transmitted by means of translations from all parts of the world. They have been enhanced by the translation into the Arabic language and have as a result insinuated themselves into men's hearts, and the beauty of this language has commingled with these sciences in our veins and arteries. And if it is true that in all nations one likes to adorn oneself by using the language to which one has remained loyal, having become accustomed to using it with friends and companions according to need, I must judge for myself that in my native Khwarezmian, science has as much as chance of becoming perpetuated as a camel has of facing Kaaba.


Further reading

  • Khwarezm in Encyclopædia Iranica by Yuri Aleksandrovich Rapoport
  • Albiruni. The Chronology Of Ancient Nations, trans.Edward Sachau. London: Elibron Classics, 2005.