This chronology aims to help you place the major empires and dynasties mentioned in this guide in a historical and geographical framework. The general regions ruled by each dynasty are indicated here, but it is important to note that boundaries often varied depending on territorial losses and gains. Most of the regions mentioned here are defined in the glossary.
Major Empires and Dynasties of the Islamic World: Important Facts and Events
Sasanian empire (224–636 A.D.)
Internal struggles and wars with Byzantium weakened the Sasanian empire, leaving it open to defeat by Islamic armies in 642 A.D.
Byzantine empire (about 330–1453)
After the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he shifted the capital of the Roman empire to the east, making Constantinople the seat of the new Byzantine empire. The Byzantine empire came into constant conflict with expanding Islamic territories, and ultimately lost Constantinople to the Ottoman empire in 1453.
Umayyad caliphate (661–750)
As the first major Islamic dynasty, their art reflects an emerging Islamic aesthetic; they were centered at Damascus, Syria.
Spanish Umayyads (756–1031)
Established by the last Umayyad prince fleeing Syria after the Abbasid conquest, the Spanish Umayyads were the first of many Muslim dynasties to rule in Spain.
Abbasid caliphate (750–1258)
This caliphate was the second major Islamic dynasty and one of the longest in power. During the second half of their rule, the Abbasid caliphs were rulers in name only, having become the puppets of other princely states, such as the Buyids, the Samanids, and the Seljuqs.
The Samanids were the first native Persian dynasty to rule Iran after the collapse of the Sasanian empire and the Arab Muslim conquests. Their rule marked the beginning of a revival of Persian art and culture. The cities of Nishapur, Samarqand, and Bukhara thrived under the Samanids.
Seljuqs of Iran (about 1040–1196)
The Seljuqs were a Turkic people from Central Asia. Their art is notable for its synthesis of Persian, Islamic, and Central Asian–Turkic elements.
Almoravids and Almohads (about 1062–1147; 1130–1269)
The Almoravids and Almohads were Berber dynasties that ruled southern Spain after the collapse of the Spanish Umayyad regime in 1032. They created capitals at Marrakesh in Morocco and Seville in Spain.
Seljuqs of Rum (1081–1307)
Part of the Seljuq dynasty of Iran broke off and established control over a large portion of Anatolia. Anatolia was known as “Rum,” a derivation of “Rome,” alluding to the Byzantine empire’s former rule in that region.
One of the khanates (principalities or kingdoms ruled by a khan) established by the descendants of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. “Il Khan” literally means “Lesser Khan,” because the Ilkhanids were subordinate to the Mongol Great Khans ruling China (also known as the Yuan dynasty).
Nasrid kingdom (1232–1492)
The Nasrids, centered at their capital of Granada, were the last of many Islamic dynasties to rule in Spain. Their reign ended in 1492, when most Muslims and Jews were cast out of Spain by the Castilian king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella.
The Mamluks (literally, “military slaves”) were originally Turkic military forces who served the preceding Egyptian dynasty. They overthrew their masters, establishing their own rule with an unusual political system in which slaves held positions of great power and were recruited into leadership.
Ottoman empire (1299–1923)
One of the longest-lasting dynasties in world history, the Ottomans ruled over a vast and varied territory with the help of a highly structured bureaucracy. Many of the Ottoman sultans were great patrons of the arts.
Timurid empire (1307–1507)
Named for the founder of the dynasty, Timur (called Tamerlane in the West), the Timurids were Turks who conquered much of Greater Iran and Central Asia. They were important patrons of the arts, commissioning architectural monuments as well as fine illustrated manuscripts.
Safavid empire (1501–1722)
The Safavids were a Shi’a dynasty that traced its lineage to an important Sufi mystic. Safavid palaces in Isfahan were known all over the world for their opulence and luxury. The Safavid shahs (kings) are renowned for their patronage of fine decorative arts and the production of luxury manuscripts.
Mughal empire (1526–1858)
The Mughals traced their lineage to the Mongol rulers of Iran. Their art and architecture is unique in its synthesis of Persian, indigenous Indian, and European influences.