The first recorded encounter between Gilak and
Deylamite warlords and invading Muslim Arabarmies was in the battle of
Jalula in 647 AD. Deylamite commander Muta led an army of Gils,
Deylamites, Azarbaijanis and people of the Rayy region. Muta was killed
in the battle and his defeated army managed to retreat in an orderly
However, this victory appears to have been a Pyrrhic victory for the
Arabs, since they did not pursue their opponents. Muslim Arabs never
managed to conquer Gilan. Gilaks and Deylamites successfully repulsed
all Arab attempts to occupy their land or to convert them to Islam. In
fact, it was the Deylamites under the Buyid kingMu'izz al-Dawlah who
finally shifted the power by conquering Baghdad in 945. Mu'izz al-Dawlah
however allowed the Abbasid caliphs to remain in comfortable but
secluded captivity in their palaces.
In the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Deylamites and later Gilaks
gradually converted to Zaidite Shi'ism. It is worth noting that several
and soldiers of fortune who were active in the military theatres of
Iran and Mesopotamia were openly Zoroastrian (for example,Asfar Shiruyeh
a warlord in central Iran, and Makan, son of Kaki, the warlord of Rayy)
or were suspected of harboring pro-Zoroastrian (for example Mardavij)
sentiments. Muslim chronicles of Varangian (Rus, pre-Russian Norsemen)
invasions of the littoral Caspian region in the 9th century record
Deylamites as non-Muslim. These chronicles also show that the Deylamites
were the only warriors in the Caspian region who could fight the
fearsome Varangian vikings as equals. Deylamite infantrymen actually had
a role very similar to the Swiss Reisläufer of the Late Middle Ages in
Europe. Deylamite mercenaries served as far as Egypt, Islamic Spain, and
in the Khazar Kingdom.
Buyids established the most successful of the Deylamite dynasties of Iran.
The Turkish invasions of the 10th and 11th centuries CE, which saw the
rise of Ghaznavid and Seljuk dynasties, put an end to Deylamite states
in Iran. From the 11th century CE to the rise of Safavids, Gilan was
ruled by local rulers who paid tribute to the dominant power south of
the Alborz range, but ruled independently.
Before the introduction of silk production to this region (date unknown,
but definitely a pillar of the economy by the 15th century AD), Gilan
was a poor province. There were no permanent trade routes linking Gilan
to Persia. There was a small trade in smoked fish and wood products. It
seems that the city of Qazvin was initially a fortress-town against
marauding bands of Deylamites, another sign that the economy of the
province did not produce enough on its own to support its population.
This changed, however, with the introduction of the silk worm in the
late middle Ages.