This dynasty was one of the first that rose to power in Khorasan after the conquest of Arabs. Its founder was called Saman-Khuda who was a native Tajik of the city of Balkh. Although, the dynasty lasted for a short period (AD 819-999) but it left a great mark in the national sentiments of Khorasanians and their cultural life.
During the course of time the four grand sons of Saman Khuda obtained other cities of Khorasan from the Abbasid caliph Al-Mamun through their diplomatic efforts. It is worth mentioning that they had kept very good relation with Abbasids throughout their struggle for freedom of their land. Nuh became governor of Samarqand, Yahya of Shash, Illyas of Herat and Ahmad of Farghana. In 875 AD, Nasr son of Ahmad became the governor of Farghana and succeeded by his brother Ismail I. Ismail Samanid was a great man with great ambitions. He overthrew the Safarids in parts of Khorasan and the Zydites of Tabaristan and established a closely centralized government in Khorasan with Bukhara as its capital. It is important to mention that the word Transoxania or Mahwarahu naher simply means ‘beyond the river’ and refers to the area of Khorasan that was beyond the river of Oxus or Amu. This northern part of Khorasan has traditionally been referred to as Mahwarahuu naher which was also known as Sogdiana.
During the Dynasty of Samanid Khorasan prospered with a considerable expansion in trade, industry and cultural life. The cities of Samarqand and Bukhara became the cultural center of Khorasan. Dari (or Farsi) literature flourished to new heights. Rodaki and Ferdowsi were the poets of this time. Philosophy, history, theology and other branches of knowledge of the time were encouraged that ultimately formed the foundation of the Islamic-Khorasanian culture.
Though not many of Samanid buildings survived but those that remained are testimonies to the originality and greatness of their architecture. The Mausoleum of Ismail Samanid still stands in Bukhara and is a good example of the architecture of their time. It is a perfectly symmetrical building constructed entirely of brick. Bricks are extensively used to form decorative patterns based on their location and direction. The Ismail Samanid mausoleum (refer to the attached pictures below) is a centralized square space with sloping sides and four pillars that together forms almost a perfect cube. It features a large dome surrounded by four smaller domes that pointed like an arch.
One important contribution of Samanid to art is in pottery and the techniques they developed for producing pottery. One of the techniques they developed is called slip painting. It is the process of mixing semifluid clay with their colors to prevent the designs from running when heated with fluid glazes in use then. The potters decorated their pottery with designs such as Arabic calligraphy, birds, lions, bull’s head. The art of bronze casting and other metal work were also flourished.
From mid-10th century, Samanid power began to decline both economically and politically. Economically because the northern trade routes were interrupted and politically because of the rising power of Turkish people from north and southern part of Khorasan, Ghazna, where they had already established themselves.
Nuh II the Samanid under continuing pressure of Turkish people and in the hope of retaining some control confirmed a former Turkish slave, Sabuktagin, and appointed his son Mahmoud as governor of southern part of Khorasan. But by that time the Qarakhanids had occupied large parts of northern Khorasan (Transoxania) and allied themselves with Mahmoud and deposed Mansur II taking Khorasan. Bukhara the capital of Samanid dynasty fell in 999 AD. Although Ismail II continued the struggle against Mahmoud and Quarakhanids but was assassinated in the year 1005.