A small island in the lower Persian Gulf
(26037' N, 54000'E), almost 16 x 8 kms
and 19.2 kms from the coast. Generally
flat, Kish has always been noted for its
palm gardens (so described by Ebn
Khordâdhbeh, Ebn al-Mojâwer, and Yâqut,
see Schwarz, p. 88), which are
particularly dense on the island's north
side (Handbuch des Persischen Golfs, p.
177). Kish is mentioned in itineraries,
for example on the route from Shiraz to
India and as a further destination
appended to the Baghdad to Basra route,
as related by Hamd-Allâh Mostawfi (Le
Strange, p. 750, 762) and on the route
from Obolla to India or China, given by
Ebn Khordâdhbeh and Edrisi (Sprenger, p.
79; cf. Aubin, 1969).
Kish Island in Persian Gulf - Satellite
images are courtesy of NASA
Although a Nestorian bishop, David of
Kish, is mentioned in 544 CE (Chabot,
1902, p. 680) this almost certainly
refers to the Kiš/Kish (Šahr-e Sabz) in
Transoxania (Bosworth, 1986, p. 181) and
not to the Persian Gulf island of the
same name (contra Sachau, 1916, p. 972;
Streck, 1927, p. 649).
Reckoned to be part of Ardašir-khorra
(q.v.; Streck, p. 649), Kish rose to
prominence around the middle of the 11th
century, when a line of rulers (amirs,
maleks, or khans) of Kish was
established there. The origins of these
rulers, or indeed that of the population
in general, are not entirely clear.
According to traditions recounted by
Wasásáaf (Šehâb-al-Din Širâzi; d. 1323)
and Ebn al-Mojâwer, Kish may have first
begun to be populated by settlers from
Sirâf who left the trading center after
its collapse (Aubin, 1959, p. 297). The
new population presumably included some
of the Jewish population which, by the
time of Benjamin of Tudela's visit at
about 1170, numbered about 500 (Benjamin
of Tudela, pp. 62-63; Fischel, 1950, p.
207-208; Aubin, 1959, p. 297). Yâqut
says Kish was also known as Jazirat al-Qeys
b. 'Omâra or Banu 'Omâra (Streck, p.
649). Based on this information, both
Maximilian Streck and S. D. Goitein
suggested the founder of the dynasty may
have been South Arabian, a view at first
glance supported by the testimony of
Edrisi who says the island had been
seized by "a certain governor of Yemen"
who "fortified it, peopled it and fitted
it with a fleet by the aid of which he
made himself the master of the Yemen
littoral" (Wilson, p. 98). According to
Estakhri however, the coastal area
opposite Kish was known as Sif 'Omâra,
or "coast of the Julanda", and he
attributed their stronghold, Qalât-e ebn
'Omâra, to the Julanda (Schwarz, p. 77).
Originally a title used for the vassal
rulers of Oman under Sasanian
overlordship, Julanda became a family
name in Oman (Wilkinson, 1975), where
Qeys b. 'Omâra is identified in local
genealogies with the Julanda b. Karkar
family of the Banu Salima (Wilkinson,
1977, pp. 135, 174-75). This tradition
undoubtedly explains why Yâqut referred
to the capital of Kish as the residence
of the "prince of Oman" (Wüstenfeld, p.
419). In publishing a Hebrew letter from
the Cairo Geniza mentioning an attack by
the king of Kish on Aden in 1135
(Cambridge University Library MS.
20.137; see Goitein, 1954, p. 256),
Goitein emphasized that the leader,
called "son of al-'Amid," had an Arabic
name, but as Jean Aubin has stressed,
al-'Amid is well attested amongst the
Buyids and Seljuks of Persia (Aubin,
1959, p. 298). Furthermore, one of the
rulers (malek) of Kish, with the good
Persian name of Jamšid, is known to have
built a palace there, called Qasár-e
ayvân, modeled on that of the Buyid
ruler 'Azad-al-Dawla at Naband, near
Sirâf. Additionally, Yâqut says that the
ruler of Kish dressed in the Daylamite
(i.e. Buyid) style (Aubin, 1959, p.
The power of Kish, which Mostawfi called
a great emporium (dawlat-khâna; Le
Strange, 1902, p. 527) has been
attributed to its control over
commercial maritime traffic between
India, Yemen, Persia, and Iraq. Edrisi
suggested that with his fleet, the ruler
of Kish preyed upon shipping (Wilson, p.
98), while Aubin referred to its rulers
as "les pirates de l'île de Qays" (Aubin,
1959, p. 297). Indeed Ebn al-Mojâwer
claimed that, "The prince of Qais has
neither cavalry nor infantry; but all
the people of the island are mariners"
(Wilson, p. 100). According to Benjamin
of Tudela, " The islanders act as
middlemen [i.e. between foreign
merchants], and earn their livelihood
thereby" (Benjamin of Tudela, p. 63;
Wilson, p. 99). Though unsuccessful, the
attack on Aden in 1135 by the king of
Kish (Goitein, p. 256) nevertheless
reveals the remarkable extent of Kish's
power in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea
and Persian Gulf during the 12th
century. In 1229, however, Kish was
itself conquered by the ruler of Hormuz
(Piacentini, 1975, p. 76). It enjoyed a
sort of renaissance (Whitehouse, 1983,
p. 330), however, under the Ilkhanid
governor of Fârs, Jamâl-al-Din Ebrâhim
al-Tibi, known as the "first king of
Kish" by the 14th century author
Šabânkâra÷i (Whitehouse, 1976, p. 146),
and his lieutenant Ayâz (d. 1311?). At
this time Kish became the center of a
commercial empire with revenue of
400,000-700,000 dinars and was the site
of an Ilkhanid mint (Lowick, p. 332).
Abu 'l-Fedâ visited Kish at this time
and noted its flourishing pearl industry
(Whitehouse, 1976, p. 146).
The antiquities of Kish were first
described in detail by Stiffe (Stiffe,
pp. 644-49) who particularly noted the
main historic settlement on the north
side of the island, Harira, where mounds
were strewn with Chinese porcelain,
examples of which he sent to the British
Museum. Stiffe also pointed to the
presence of large water cisterns and an
underground irrigation system (qanât).
Harira was investigated briefly in 1974
by W. E. Hamilton and David B.
Whitehouse, who identified the remains
of numerous buildings, including a
mosque, loading bays for boats,
cisterns, kilns, shell middens, and
quantities of imported ceramics,
including East Asian exports such as
Martaban stonewares, celadon, porcelain
and Ting ware (Whitehouse, 1976, pp.
During the Qajar era ownership of Kish
changed hands several times and in 1972
the Kish Development Organization was
founded with a view to turning the
island into a major tourist resort. In
1989 ministerial approval was given for
the creation of a special industrial
trade zone on Kish and in 1992 the Kish
Free Trade Organization was established.
Significant infrastructure investment
has now taken place, making Kish an
important tourist destination as well.