The founder of the dynasty was Sebüktigin (ruled
977–997), a former Turkic slave who was recognized
by the Samanids (an Iranian Muslim dynasty) as
governor of Ghazna (modern Ghazni, Afghanistan).
As the Samanid dynasty weakened, Sebüktigin
consolidated his position and expanded his domains
as far as the Indian border. His son Ma?mud (ruled
998–1030) continued the expansionist policy, and by
1005 the Samanid territories had been divided. The
Oxus River (Amu Darya) formed the boundary
between the two successor states to the Samanid
empire, the Ghaznavids ruling in the west and the
Qarakhanids in the east.
Ghaznavid power reached its zenith during Ma?mud’s
reign. He created an empire that stretched from the
Oxus to the Indus valley and the Indian Ocean; in the
west he captured (from the Buyids) the Iranian cities
of Rayy and Hamadan. A devout Muslim, Ma?mud
reshaped the Ghaznavids from their pagan Turkic
origins into an Islamic dynasty and expanded the
frontiers of Islam. The Persian poet Ferdowsi (d.
1020) completed his epic Shah-nameh (“Book of
Kings”) at the court of Ma?mud about 1010.
Ma?mud’s son Mas?ud I (reigned 1031–41) was unable
to preserve the power or even the integrity of the
Ghaznavid empire. In Khorasan and Khwarezm,
Ghaznavid power was challenged by the Seljuq Turks.
Mas?ud suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of
Dandanqan (1040), whence all the Ghaznavid
territories in Iran and Central Asia were lost to the
Seljuqs. The Ghaznavids were left in possession of
eastern Afghanistan and northern India, where they
continued to rule until 1186, when Lahore fell to the
Little survives of Ghaznavid art, but the period is
important for its influence on the Seljuq Turks in Iran
and on later Islamic art in India. The Ghaznavids
introduced the “four eyvan” ground plan in the palace
at Lashkari Bazar near Lashkari Gah, on a plateau
above the Helmond River, just north of Qal?eh-ye
Best, Afghanistan. An eyvan is a large vaulted hall,
closed on three sides and open to a court on the
fourth. The motif of a court surrounded by four
eyvans dominated Seljuq mosque architecture and
was used continually through the Timurid and ?afavid
periods in Persia. The victory tower of Mas?ud III
(built 1099–1115) is a precursor of the Seljuq türbe, or
tomb-tower. Of its two original stories, the remaining
one is largely covered with ornamental inscription.
Excavations at the site of the palace at Lashkari
Bazar have uncovered figurative paintings whose
stylistic elements are similar to early Seljuq work.