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Afshar and Zand

Iranian History - Afshar and Zand

Afshar & Zand

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In the declining years of the Safavid dynasty, a gifted military genius named Nader Qoli Beg supported Shah Tahmasp II (r. 1722-1732) in the war against the Afghans.

Nader was born to a peasant family and had joined a band of robbers while still a boy, eventually becoming their leader. With an army of 5,000 he defeated the Afghans and reinstated Tahmasp as Shah, though true power was now in the hands of Nader himself.

After Nader deposed Tahmasp in 1732 he installed his infant son Abbas III on the throne with himself as regent. In 1736 he abandoned the pretence of Safavid rule altogether and took the throne himself, establishing the short-lived Afshar dynasty.

After naming himself king, Nader Shah began a war of conquest and fought Turks, Russians, Afghans and Indians to increase the territory and wealth of his empire. Nader captured Kandahar and Kabul and reached Delhi in 1739 where he massacred thousands and plundered the treasures of the Mughal Kings, including the Kuh-e Noor Diamond and the Peacock Throne (now on display in the National Jewels Museum in Tehran). He returned with such enormous riches that taxation was stopped for the next three years.

Portrait of Nader Shah, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Portrait of Nader Shah, V&A Museum, London, UK.



Tomb of Nader Shah, Mashhad, Iran.

Tomb of Nader Shah, Mashhad, Iran.

However, Nader's thirst for military successes bordered on obsession and his rule became increasingly harsh and intolerant. Seemingly concerned with little but his own power and wealth, a growing paranoia led him to have one of his sons blinded and many of those closest to him executed.

Eventually, in 1747, he was killed by a group of his own commanders who surprised him in his sleep but not before he had killed two of them himself.

Disunity and power struggles marked the ensuing years before one of Naders generals, Karim Khan (r. 1750-1779), leader of the tribe of Zand, overcame his adversaries and assumed control. Out of respect for Nader Shah, Karim allowed Afshar rule to continue in Khorasan under Naders blind grandson Sharokh – a sign of his compassionate and reasonable nature.

In fact, Karim, who was not greatly moved by the trappings of power, never proclaimed himself King. He first ruled as regent through Ismail III, a descendent of the Safavid line whom he installed as a figurehead in 1757 and, after dispensing with the puppet king, assumed the title of "Vakil-e Mardom" (advocate of the people) rather than "Shah", as an expression of his desire to rule for the benefit of the nation.

The reign of Karim Khan was a period of relative peace and prosperity. Notable among his policies were a successful reorganisation of the nations finances and his encouragement of foreign trade by allowing the British East India Company to operate in Bushehr.

He made Shiraz his capital, building such impressive monuments as the Vakil Bazaar and the Vakil Fortress, and the city thrived under his rule. Unlike, Nader Shah, Karim also appreciated the arts and many scholars and poets benefited from his patronage.

Will Yong and Kazem Vafadari

Nader Shah Afshar, Iran.

Painting of Nader Shah Afshar, Iran.



Nader Shah, Iran.

Nader Shah and two of his sons, Iran.

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