one of the most eminent Iranian scholars of the early Abbasid era, author of a celebrated commentary on the Qorʾān as well as the most important of the classical Arabic historical texts still extant. JARIR (224-310/839-923), one of the most eminent Iranian scholars of the early Abbasid era, author of a celebrated commentary on the Qorʾān as well as the most important of the classical Arabic historical texts still extant.
Accounts by those who knew him, such as his students, the jurist and judge Aḥmad b. The most detailed extant biographical notices, primarily those provided by Ḵaṭib Baḡdādi (d. The anecdotes that have been handed down about him are certainly suggestive, and Franz Rosenthal (1989, p. However, Ṭabari is never known to have claimed or to have had attributed to him any tribal affiliation and is always called by his regional .42) thought that their “small details are no doubt to be taken as factual.” However, as Claude Gilliot (1988a, p. He certainly knew some Persian, and his history showed more than a passing interest in subjects concerning his homeland, but that proves little.237) has noted, some sound suspiciously like topoi. When he was asked about his ancestry, he was deliberately vague and quoted a verse belittling the importance of such genealogies (Yāqut, VI, p. 12-13 on the possible moralizing aspect of this anecdote).Indeed, there is much in the biographical notices that seems exaggerated and reverential to the point of hagiography, clearly intended to affirm Ṭabari’s formidable intellect, work ethic, and moral probity and piety, and it is difficult to know what to take seriously and what to discount. There is thus no way of knowing for certain whether Ṭabari’s family was native to the Āol region or perhaps arrived with the wave of Muslim colonists after the Abbasid revolution, either as converts or Arab settlers.), and in his case some people attributed the event in question to late 224 and others to early 225 (which would be roughly in the period September-December 839 or January 840). As far as social background is concerned, Ṭabari’s family was relatively well-to-do.
Unfortunately, that specific event is not named, but the dates fall within the period corresponding to the revolt in Ṭabarestān of the Qārenid ruler Māzyār (for some key episodes of which Ṭabari, III, pp. The evidence for this is not only that he subsisted in his lengthy studies and travels on a regular stipend from his father (Ebn ʿAsāker, LII, pp.
1274, 1299, notes that there are similarly conflicting datings). 198, 203), but also the specific statement in an anecdote (Yāqut, ).
It would be interesting to know whether this personal experience of the importance of chronology might have contributed in some way to Ṭabari’s attachment to the annalistic style for his historical work. Apparently, most or all of the produce was converted to commercial goods and conveyed to him annually via the pilgrimage caravan. The anecdote makes clear that the property was in Ṭabarestān but does not indicate exactly when or how Ṭabari or his family acquired it.
The sources agree that Ṭabari was born in Āol, presumably the urban center rather than one of its rural dependencies (hence his , in Ebn al-Nadim, p. That fact, coupled with the time of his birth, is more significant for understanding the shaping of Ṭabari’s life than one might think. If the anecdote is to be believed, the amount involved was not inconsiderable, since it not only sufficed for Ṭabari, but also enabled him to bestow gifts on his friends, including a quite valuable sable worth forty dinars that he presented to the vizier Moḥammad b. It could have been an ancestral estate, but it would also not be unusual for it to have been bestowed on an settler or acquired as an investment by one of the urban elite.
Āol, a town in the central plains of the southern Caspian littoral, was occupied by the forces of the Abbasid caliphate around 140/758 (according to Ebn Esfandiār, p. It was apparently rather heavily colonized by the Arab and supporters of the new caliphal regime and soon became the political and economic capital of Ṭabarestān as well as a center for the Islamization of the region. In any case, it is worth remembering that the question of title to land and the right to collect income from it was at the core of Māzyār’s revolt, and Ṭabari’s family seems to have been on the winning side of that struggle.
This also put it at the epicenter of tensions between the Muslim population and the Persian local rulers in the adjacent highlands. As for Ṭabari himself, there are some anecdotes indicating he was in financial straits at times, but these were rare, temporary, and due to some exceptional circumstance.