The aim of this book is a comparatively humble one, and even of this aim, now that it is completed, I fear that it may have fallen short. It was originally undertaken, not because I had made or intended to make any special study of Ṭabaristán, but in the search for fresh materials for the second volume of the Literary History of Persia on which I am still engaged. We are still far from having arrived at a point where, supplied with ample materials, and certain that no important ascertainable fact has eluded our knowledge, we can venture to dogmatise or generalise on the intellectual life and spiritual development of the Persians. Often the student of Persian must wait for months ere he can consult even the most important and indispensable histories, such as the Jámi'u `t-Tawáríkh of Rashídu’d-Dín Faḍlu’lláh, or the Ta`ríkh-i-Jahángusháy of 'Aṭá Malik-i-Juwayní; and, while thus waiting, he will take such oppor­tunities as may happen to present themselves of acquainting himself with the contents of those little-read local and special histories of which some are to be found in every large col­lection of Muhammadan manuscripts, and which constantly supply details, wanting in the larger general histories, of considerable value for illustrative purposes.

Much has been done, especially by the Russians, towards supplying full materials for a history of the Caspian provinces of Persia, Gílán and Mázandarán. Between the years 1850 and 1858 Dorn published a whole series of works on this subject: first his Geschichte Tabaristan’s und der Serbedare nach Chondemir; then four volumes of texts, of which the first was Sayyid Dhahíru`d-Dín al-Mar'ashí’s History of Tabaristán, Rúyán and Mázandarán, composed about A.D. 1476; the second, 'Alí b. Shamsu`d-Dín’s History of Gílán, known as the Ta`ríkh-i-Khání, which is a continuation of the last-mentioned work to A.D. 1514; then Ibnu`l-Fattáḥ al-Fúmaní’s History of Gílán (from A.D. 1517—1628); and lastly a volume of extracts from the writings of twenty-two Arabic and Persian authors who have incidentally treated of matters connected with these provinces. Another most valuable work which I have constantly consulted during the preparation of this volume is Melgunof’s Das südliche Ufer des Kaspischen Meeres, oder die Nordprovinzen Persiens (Leipzig, 1868). Even for the dialect of Mázandarán more has probably been done than for any other local idiom of Persia, notably by the two Russian scholars mentioned above.

Separated from the rest of Persia by the lofty barrier of the Elburz Mountains, culminating in the great cone of Damáwand (Dunbáwand), the Caspian provinces have always possessed, to a certain extent, a history and character apart. Long after the Sásánian dynasty had fallen and the rést of Persia had been subdued by the Arabs, the Ispahbads continued to strike their Pahlawí coinage and maintain the religion of Zoroaster in the mountains and forests of Ṭabar­istán; and their struggles against the Arabs were only ended about A.D. 838 by the capture and cruel execution of the gallant Mázyár, the son of Qárin, the son of Wandá-Hurmuz. Twenty-five years later was established the Shí'ite rule of the Zaydí Sayyids, which lasted till A.D. 928; and these were followed by the noble house of Ziyár, of whom Shamsu`l-Ma'álí Qábús was especially conspicuous for his literary eminence. Even after the disastrous Mongol invasion, repre­sentatives of the ancient aristocracy of Ṭabaristán continued to wield a more or less considerable power.

Of this strange and interesting country the clearest and most ineffaceable recollection must remain in the mind of every traveller who has visited it. I merely traversed it in about a week on my homeward journey from Persia in the autumn of 1888, yet of no part of that journey do I preserve a more vivid impression; the first entry, from the great stony plain of 'Iráq-i-'Ajamí into the lower hills at Ágh, with its rippling streams and almost English hedge-rows; the long winding climb to the eastern shoulder of the mighty Damáwand; the deep cañons of the Lár; the Alpine beauties of René; the gradual descent, through rock-walled valleys, into virgin forests, bright with the red blossoms of the wild pomegranate, and carpeted with ferns and mosses; the slug­gish streams and stagnant pools of the coast-ward fenlands; ancient Ámul, with its long slender bridge; Bárfurúsh and the swampy rice-fields of Shaykh Ṭabarsí, memorable in the history of the Bábí religion; and the sandy downs towards the Caspian Sea.

Of this land the author of this book, Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan b. Isfandiyár — generally known, for the sake of brevity, as Ibn Isfandiyár —, is the earliest systematic historian whose work has come down to us. Of his life we know practically nothing save what he himself tells us at the beginning of his work (pp. 3—4 infra), while the few written sources from which, as he informs us, he derived his material — notably the Báwand-náma and the 'Uqúd of Abu`l-Ḥasan Muḥammad al-Yazdádí — appear also to be lost. Dorn (Sehir-eddin’s Geschichte von Tabaristan u. s. w., p. 6) gives A.D. 1216 as the date at which he composed his history, that is to say, 260 years before Dhahíru`d-Dín, who, as Dorn points out, made such free use of his materials. Were this use so free (which it is not) as to amount to complete plagiarism (a thing by no means unknown in Persian literature), it might render the publication of Ibn Isfandiyár’s book in the original a work of supererogation; but even then, I venture to think, an abridged English translation like the present might have its uses. If it does nothing else, it may save other students of Persian the trouble of reading the original, or the disappointment of seeking from the book more than it contains.

The best translation, however, cannot take the place of a good text, and the publication of a complete and carefully collated text can alone be regarded as a final and definitive piece of work; since even if the translator could be certain that he had in every case fully apprehended the author’s meaning, this assurance could not be shared by others to whom the original was inaccessible. This objection applies with still greater force to an abridged or condensed trans­lation like the present, since the process of condensation is sure to be unevenly applied, according to the personal bias and proclivities of the translator. To me, for instance, all that throws fresh light on the literary history or intimate life of Persia is of extreme value; while the wars of rival princes and governors, when arising, so far as can be judged, from mere personal ambition, and not from conflicting ideals of nationality or religion, are comparatively unimportant, because unconnected with any essential antithesis. All that concerns Mázyár, for example, is to me of supreme interest, because he stands for the old Persian national and religious ideal; while the internecine struggles which mark the decline of the Seljúq power, and in which I can discern no under­lying principle, appear merely as wearisome enumerations of irrelevant details. Yet to another, who regarded Persian history from a different point of view, the military or the political, for instance, the very matters over which I have passed so lightly might seem all-important.

I need say little more in this Preface. Profiting by the liberality of the India Office Library, which stands in such noble contrast to the retrograde and obscurantist policy of several of the most important libraries in this country, I have been able to read through a comparatively rare work which cannot be ignored by the student of Persian history. As I read, I endeavoured to abstract from it, primarily for my own use, all that seemed to me of interest or importance. This abstract I had at first no intention of publishing; but the foundation by the liberality of the late Mrs Jane Gibb of the “E. J. W. Gibb Memorial”, intended not only to perpetuate the memory of her son’s rare scholarship and single-hearted devotion to learning, but to carry on such work as he loved and promote such aims as he so steadily pursued, created, almost for the first time in this country, facilities for the publication of works dealing with the history of Western and Central Asia actually in excess, for the time being, of the supply of such works. Under these circum­stances, with the approval of the other Trustees of the Memorial, I decided to revise for the Press this abstract originally prepared only for my own personal use. In the work of revision I have received the most generous and invaluable help from Mr A. G. Ellis of the British Museum, whose knowledge of Muhammadan literature and bibliography sur­passes, so far as I can judge, that of any other living European scholar. Notwithstanding his onerous duties and scanty leisure, he has read almost every sheet of the book before it was printed off; and to him I am indebted not only for the numerous foot-notes followed by his initials, and the observations on pp. 271—280, but also for the correction of many errors which would otherwise have marred these pages. I desire to avail myself of this oppor­tunity of expressing my gratitude for this and numerous other obligations under which he has laid me.

With the Index (the most important part of such a book as this) I have taken considerable pains; and with its help it will, I think be easy for any Persian scholar to find any passage which he may wish to consult, not only in the India Office Codex which forms the basis of my work, but in any other manuscript which he may have at his disposal. Certain names occur so often that, without a more profound knowledge of the history of Ṭabaristán than I possess, it is often difficult to determine questions of identity. Hence, in all doubtful cases, I have placed in biackets after the name a Roman number indicating the century of the Christian era in which the person referred to appears to have flourished.

May 10, 1905.