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Afshārid Dynasty

By:
John R. Perry
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Afshārid Dynasty

The Afshārid dynasty (1736–1802) was the ruling house of Iran, founded after the abolition of the Ṣafavid dynasty by Nādir Shāh Afshār.

Nādir Shāh (r. 1736–1747) was born Nādir-qulī Beg in 1688 CE into the Qirqlū clan of the Afshār Turkmen tribe of northern Khurasan. During the anarchy following the invasion of Iran by the Ghilzai Afghans in the 1720s, he rose in the service of Ṭahmāsp Mīrzā, the claimant to the Ṣafavid throne who had escaped from the besieged capital Isfahan, to replace Fatḥ ʿAlī Khān of the Qājār Turkmen tribe as the prince's commander-in-chief. Under the honorific surname Ṭahmāsp-qulī (slave of Ṭahmāsp) Khān, he decisively defeated the Afghans at Mihmāndūst. Ṭahmāsp was installed as shah, and Nādir took one of his sisters in marriage. Differences arose between them over the conduct of the war against the Ottoman Turks, who had invaded western Iran, and in 1732 Nādir had Ṭahmāsp deposed on grounds of drunkenness and incompetence. He was replaced by his infant son ʿAbbās, with Nādir as regent.

Nādir took the offensive against the Turks, blockading Baghdad and routing an Ottoman force in 1733. Concluding an alliance with the Russians (who, like the Turks, had opportunistically invaded Iran's northwestern territories), he recaptured Shirvan, Ganja (with the help of Russian artillery), and Tiflis (Tblisi). In 1735 the Russians agreed to withdraw from Darband (Derbent) and Baku. As the liberator of Iran, Nādir convened a grand national assembly (quriltāy) on the Mughān Steppe, gathering nobles, officers, governors, and ʿulamāʿ from all over the country. By feigning an intention to withdraw from leadership, he engineered his accession to the throne on March 8, 1736. As a condition of his acceptance he required that the Persians formally abjure the more extreme Shīʿī customs (such as the ritual cursing of the first three caliphs), which were a source of enmity with the Ottomans; this was included in the draft terms for a treaty with Turkey, whereby the Persians would be recognized as Sunnī Muslims following the Jaʿfarī school of law (madhhab; named for the Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq).

Nādir demolished the Afghan stronghold of Qandahār in 1738, and the next year his army, augmented by Abdālī and Ghilzai Afghans, defeated the Mughal emperor Muḥammad Shāh at Karnal and captured Delhi. A revolt by the populace resulted in a massacre of thousands of citizens. Leaving the powerless Mughal nominally on the throne, Nādir returned to Mashhad early in 1741, laden with booty—after a detour into Central Asia to subjugate the Uzbek rulers of Bukhara and Khiva.

Nādir resumed the war against Turkey in 1743. When Mosul resisted, he negotiated a truce and at Najaf convened a council of ʿulamāʿ from Ottoman and Iranian territories to discuss the religious question. The final communiqué approved the device of the Jaʿfarī rite; in Istanbul, however, the idea was dismissed out of hand.

In order to fund his campaigns in the west, Nādir Shāh rescinded the three-year tax amnesty decreed for Persia on his conquest of India and redoubled his exactions. Revolts erupted everywhere, and were put down ruthlessly, often by the shah's Afghan and Uzbek contingents. In June 1747, Nādir was cut down in his tent by a group of his Persian, Afshār, and Qājār officers, who feared for their own lives at the hands of his Afghan troops.

His army disintegrated, and the Afghan contingent made their way to Qandahār under command of the young Aḥmad Khān Abdālī (thereafter known as Aḥmad Shāh Durrānī, first king of Afghanistan). The assassins were joined at Mashhad by Nādir's disaffected nephew ʿAlī-qulī; enthroned as ʿĀdil Shāh, he secured his uncle's fortress of Kalāt with its treasure, and massacred all Nādir's surviving male issue except for Shāhrukh Mīrzā, a teenage grandson by a Ṣafavid princess. ʿĀdil deputed his younger brother Ibrāhīm to secure Isfahan, and himself stayed in Mashhad. Ibrāhīm augmented his army and defeated his brother's forces near Zanjān in June 1748. He was proclaimed shah at Tabrīz in December; meanwhile, however, Shāhrukh had been raised to the throne at Mashhad by a junta of Kurd and other tribal chieftains. Their forces routed Ibrāhīm's army in spring 1749; he and his captive brother were taken in chains to Mashhad and execution.

Yet another descendent of the last Ṣafavid shah and an influential figure in Mashhad—Mīr Sayyid Muḥammad, the superintendent (mutawallī) of the shrine of the eighth Shīʿī imam—was now pressed into service as the figurehead of an insurrection orchestrated by yet another military faction. Shāhrukh was deposed (and later blinded), and in January Mīr Sayyid Muḥammad was crowned Shāh Sulaymān II of the restored Ṣafavid dynasty. He soon disappointed his patrons by disbursing Nādir's dwindling treasure to parasitical relatives, and within three months was deposed and blinded in turn. The blind Shāhrukh was reinstalled for want of better, and ruled in name for a further forty-five years.

By this time Persia's political center of gravity had shifted to Isfahan, and later to Shīrāz, under Karīm Khān of the Zand dynasty. Afghanistan and Mughal India were ruled by Aḥmad Shāh Durrānī (1747–1773). Afshārid Khurasan remained a buffer zone between these states, impoverished by power struggles among tribal chieftains and Shāhrukh's sons Naṣr Allāh and Nādir Mīrzā, and invaded three times by Aḥmad Shāh. After Aga Muḥammad Khān Qājār had destroyed the Zands and crowned himself shah, in 1796 he reconquered Khurasan and deposed, tortured, and exiled Shāhrukh Shāh. The Qājār king died in the following year, whereupon Nādir Mīrzā recaptured Mashhad. He was tolerated by Fatḥ ʿAlī Shāh until 1802; when Mashhad was stormed, Nādir Mīrzā was taken to Tehran and executed and Khurasan came under Qājār control.

The Afshārid dynasty was created by the military genius of its founder, and doomed by his oppression and inflexibility once his ambitions were frustrated. Nādir's attempt to reconcile the Shīʿī–Sunnī split came not from religious conviction (he remained a dutiful if perfunctory Shīʿī), but from his ambition to forge a greater Islamic empire than could be built upon the ideologically limiting basis of Ṣafavid Persia. Imāmī Shiism, still championed by the Turkmen who killed Nādir, continued to define Iran for the outside world; Mashhad retained its rank as the country's preeminent place of pilgrimage, but the city and Khurasan as a whole, pillaged by its rulers, were plunged into an economic depression that lasted well into the nineteenth century. Undistinguished by any cultural innovation, “Afshārid” as a dynastic label lacks the resonance of  “Ṣafavid” or “Timurid.”See also IRAN.

Bibliography

  • Axworthy, Michael. A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind.
  • Lockhart, Laurence. Nadir Shah: A Critical Study Based Mainly upon Contemporary Sources. London, 1938.
  • Olson, Robert W.The Siege of Mosul and Ottoman-Persian Relations 1718–1743. Bloomington, Ind., 1975.
  • Perry, John R.“The Last Safavids, 1722–1773.”Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies9 (1971): 59–69.
  • Tucker, Ernest S.Nadir Shah's Quest for Legitimacy in Post-Safavid Iran. Gainesville, Fla., 2006.
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