The Establishment of the Qajar Dynasty in Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 February 2019

Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, founder of the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) in Iran [source]

Gavin R.G. Hambly, a Middle East scholar and historian, wrote a paper in 1963 about the establishment of the Qajar dynasty, the second-to-last ruling House in Iran, and particularly about its first monarch, Agha Mohammad Khan. The paper is slightly revisionist about Agha Mohammad, countering the long-standing reputation of him as solely a ruthless despot. The Qajars, for all their faults, prevented the outright colonisation of Iran in the nineteenth century, and imposed an order that held the country together, albeit while losing tracts of territory on the periphery—the Caucasus and Turkmenistan to the Russians in the north, and areas in the east to the British, notably Herat, which was annexed to Afghanistan, and parts of Baluchistan and Sistan to what would later become Pakistan. This resilience of the Iranian state is largely ascribable to Agha Mohammad, argues Hambly, who showed a sense of public spirit he is rarely credited with in consciously making the lives of ordinary Iranians better.

BACKGROUND

The first caliph (successor) to the Prophet Muhammad took office in 632, ruling from Medina. By the time this Rashidun (rightly-guided) caliphate collapsed, after the assassination of fourth caliph, Ali, in 661, Iran had been added to the realm. Ali had moved the capital to Kufa, near Najaf in southern Iraq, and the new caliphal rulers, the Umayyads, would now move the capital to Damascus.

The Umayyads were defeated by the Abbasid revolution in 750 and the Empire decisively reoriented to the East. During the Abbasids’ long decline, the Seljuks came to dominate Iran, until they fell to the Mongols as they swept in from the east on their way to sacking the Abbasid capital, Baghdad, in 1258. The Tigris is variously said to have run red with blood or black with ink from the libraries the Mongols emptied into it. The Mongols also destroyed the Nizaris (“Assassins”), an offshoot from, and in effect the final remnants of, the Fatimid caliphate, the Ismaili dynasty that had posed the only serious challenge to the Sunni Empire’s legitimacy.

In the west, the Abbasid caliphate was nominally reconstituted in Cairo in 1261, though in reality the sultan now answered to his Praetorians, the Mamluke slave soldiers. And in 1517, Egypt was conquered by the Ottomans, the Turkic dynasty from Anatolia. The Ottomans, the greatest of all the Islamic Empires, moved the seat of the caliph to Constantinople (Istanbul), where it remained until the office was abolished in March 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as he established a secular republic on the ruins of the old order.

In the east, the Mongol Imperium continued in various forms for about 250 years. The Mongol state created by Genghis Khan and completed by his grandson Hulagu in the 1250s began to fracture even before Hulagu died in 1265. First it divided into four khanates: the Yuan State (modern China), the Kipchak Khanate, better known as the Golden Horde (Russia), the Chagatai Khanate (the “Stans” of Central Asia and Xinjiang), and Il-Khanate (stretching from Afghanistan-Pakistan through Iran and most of Iraq, to the Mediterranean coast and deep into Anatolia).

Some territories were lost from Il-Khanate almost immediately. The Bahriyya Mamluks recovered much of Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria, expelling the Crusader states in the process; the Ottomans took over these zones and eventually pushed the Mongol descendants out of Anatolia and Iraq, too. Il-Khanate then fractured internally into four major statelets, whose various rulers all converted to Islam.

Tamerlane (Timur) emerged from the Chagatai Khanate to conquer and reunify much of Il-Khanate in the late 14th century, capturing Isfahan in 1387 and within a decade had displaced the ruler of the Golden Horde, Tokhtamysh. Tamerlane would also head east, creating the Mughal Empire over much of the Subcontinent. Although the Mughal Empire was only fully ended in 1858, abolished by the British after the Indian Mutiny, the pattern was more usual over the rest of Tamerlane’s Empire: it did not long outlast him.

After Tamerlane died in February 1405, the main divisions reasserted themselves and gradually hardened. The Golden Horde, for example, after a century of infighting and wars with neighbours, was overcome in 1533 by Ivan the Terrible, the first ruler of a recognisable Russian state and its first Tsar as of 1547. (Interestingly, a fragment of the Golden Horde would survive, based in Crimea, as a vassal of the Ottomans. The Ottomans’ loss of the Crimean Peninsula to the Russians in 1783 was a crucial indicator of its decline.) The Timurid (or Gurkani) dynasty ruled over Iran for the most of the 15th century, before losing ground to the Aq Qoyunlu.

In 1501, the Timurids were vanquished and a year later so were the Aq Qoyunlu by Ismail, who was crowned Shah of Iran on 7 November 1502. This is regarded as the foundation of modern Iran. For the first time since the Arab conquest nine centuries earlier, excepting only the brief Buyid interlude from the mid-10th to mid-11th centuries, Iran was now ruled by an Iranian dynasty.

Ismail emerged from the Safaviyya, a Sufi order that had embraced Shi’ism. Sunni-majority Iran would now become an officially Shi’a state, and this soon filtered down to the populace. “Men follow the religion of their King”, as has been said. The militant Shi’ism of the Safavid dynasty defined it against the Sunni Ottoman realm, which in this period was just as militant. The clashes began quickly and lasted nearly 150 years until the Treaty of Zuhab (1639) delineated the border between the two, roughly where the modern Iran-Iraq frontier is.

SAFAVIDS TO QAJARS

Hambly begins with the tumult of the 18th century that set the stage for the Qajars’ rise to power. The “long and tragic” reign, from 1694 to 1722, of the last Safavid monarch, Sultan Husayn, “seemed to foreshadow the disintegration of the Iranian state”, Hambly notes. The Ghilzais of Afghanistan, led by Mahmud Hotak, rebelled against their Persian overlords, inflicting a terrible defeat at Gulnabad in March 1722 and besieging the Safavid Shah in his capital, Isfahan. Sultan Husayn surrendered in October 1722, abdicating to make way for a short-lived Afghan dynasty. Meanwhile, the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, had declared war on Iran in June 1722 and stolen sections of the north of the country.

Mahmud was deposed in a palace coup in April 1725, having gone insane. He was murdered within days, and his cousin, Ashraf, took over. The Safavid dynasty was restored in the form of Sultan Husayn’s son, Tahmasp II (1729-32), and grandson, Abbas III (1732-36). The real power in the country, however, was the “military genius”, as Hambly designates him, Nader Afshar, whose defeat of the Hotakis in September 1929 at Damghan led to their downfall. In March 1736, Nader ceased to rule from the shadows and had himself crowned Nader Shah, bringing the Safavid era to a formal end.

Nader held the Ottomans at bay in the west, held and overran the Uzbeks in the north-east, brought Afghanistan back to heel, struck into the Persian Gulf, recaptured some of the contested territories from Russia, and raided the Mughal Empire in 1739, devastating its capital, Delhi. The expansion of Iran under Nader’s rule has drawn analogies to Alexander of Macedon and Napoleon, while his savagery has drawn comparisons to his idols, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.

“From these spectacular conquests Iran derived few benefits,” Hambly notes, “and to serve her master’s ambitions she was bled white of men, money and resources. Fiscal oppression bred rebellion, which was suppressed with terrible ferocity.” Nader Shah was assassinated in June 1947 and his Afsharid Empire disintegrated quickly.

In Afghanistan, there arose a powerful King, Ahmad Shah Durrani, regarded as the founder of Afghanistan, who asserted autonomy and began expansion east into India. Karim Khan Zand took power in Iran in 1751, allowing Nader’s grandson, Shahrokh, to nominally remain Shah, though only to exercise influence in the Khorasan province of the north-east. Karim Khan took the title vakil-e ra’aya (deputy of the people). Karim Khan’s rule brought a brief respite from forty years of chaos and some genuine improvements in the health and wealth of the Iranian population. After Karim Khan’s death in 1779, the country collapsed into civil war.

The Qajar tribe based around Gorgan, in Golestan Province on the north-east border, were undoubtedly Karim Khan’s fiercest challengers, Hambly explains. Agha Mohammad, the de facto Qajar chief, escaped from jail soon after Karim Khan died, and returned to his home area, able to pacify divisions within his own tribe, while possessing an intimate knowledge of the schisms in the Zand family.

Agha Mohammad had been well-treated by Karim Khan, Hambly writes, “allowed the maximum freedom and, since Karim Khan soon recognized his captive’s astute mind, Aqa Mohammad was frequently summoned into the presence of the Vakil who consulted him on affairs of state, calling him ‘Piran Visa’, the name of the famous vizier of the [literally] legendary king Afrasiab”. This was in contrast to the treatment Agha Mohammad had received from Nader’s nephew and successor, Adel Shah (reigned: 1747-8), who had castrated Agha Mohammad in prison. That Agha Mohammad was a eunuch has become a famous part of his biography—and is obviously the explanation for his lack of children to succeed him once he took the Persian throne.

The fratricidal violence among the Zand contenders was brought under some control in February 1785, when Ja’far Khan outbid his rivals and took control in Shiraz. But, says Hambly, north of Fars, Ja’far Khan’s “authority was purely nominal”. Agha Mohammad had extended his influence well to the south of the Elburz Mountains. In January 1789, Ja’far Khan was poisoned to death; his son, Lotf Ali Khan, fled, and Sayed Morad Khan took the throne. Sayed’s rule was brief: just four months later, Lotf returned to Shiraz and overthrew Sayed, having him executed.

Hambly notes:

With the accession of Lotf Ali Khan, the last ruler of the Zand dynasty, the protracted dual between the Zands and the Qajars entered its final, and most tragic, phase. The contrast between the rival leaders could hardly have been more striking.

Aqa Mohammad was in his middle fifties and his appearance was anything but agreeable. … His personality was widely known and dreaded. Greed and vindictiveness were two dominant passions, though he was capable of subordinating both to his overriding love of power. Through years of adversity, he had proved himself a master of dissimulation and a clear-sighted, ruthless statesman. His talents as a general were very considerable and were rightly respected. …

Lotf Ali Khan was the complete antithesis of his rival, being extremely handsome as well as courteous and generous in his manner. When his father died, he was less than twenty, and at the time of his own death he was under twenty-five. A chivalrous fighter and an inspired leader in guerrilla warfare, Lotf Ali Khan soon became a hero of ballads and legends. His failings, however, were dangerous ones, for he could be haughty and imperious, impetuous and cruel, and he made little effort to conciliate opponents. … With the Shirazis, who loathed the Qajars without reservation, he was justly popular for his princely magnanimity.

Though the Qajars had made advances by mid-1789, taking control of Tabriz, Hamadan, Tehran, and Isfahan, the Zand forces under Lotf had some advantages. Lotf was, writes Hambly, “master of Fars and the country to the west around Shushtar and received tribute from Yazd, Kerman, Lar and Bushire. He therefore controlled what was, at that period, probably the richest part of Iran, the south having suffered less than the north from the ravages of war following the fall of the Safavis.” In military terms, though, the Zands were behind, having forces “far smaller than that of the Qajars”, which “probably numbered little more than 20,000 men, mainly cavalry”.

Agha Mohammad besieged Shiraz for three months in late 1789, but withdrew to winter in Tehran. For reasons unclear, Lotf was left alone through 1790. In 1791, as Lotf tried to go on the offensive, a revolt broke out behind his lines, led by Hajji Ibrahim, a powerful loyalist and pillar of Ja’far Khan’s regime, who turned against Lotf, believing him to be untrustworthy. Hajji Ibrahim’s family were originally Jewish and their descendants, the Qavam family, remained influential into the Pahlavi era. Despite a flawlessly executed first stage of the coup, with Lotf’s principal supporters rounded up soon after he left the city, Hajji Ibrahim’s agents failed to kill the Shah, and even with help from Agha Mohammad, Lotf could not be deposed.

Even though Lotf fended off Hajji Ibrahim’s intrigue, it did open the way for Lotf’s downfall, albeit indirectly. As Hambly explains:

Overawed by the sheer size of Aqa Mohammad’s forces, Lotf Ali Khan thereafter fled eastwards into that remote area of desert which surrounds the cities of Yazd, Kerman and Tabas, where he survived throughout 1793 as a brigand chieftain. In 1794, however, he captured Kerman and … it seemed as if there was a prospect of a revival of Zand fortunes. Aqa Mohammad therefore immediately marched on Kerman, while Lotf Ali Khan hastened to put the city’s fortifications in order. The walls had long been derelict, yet even under such unfavourable circumstances Lotf Ali Khan held out for four months until the Qajars were admitted into the city by treachery. Making a daring escape through the enemy lines he fled to Bam, a hundred miles eastwards on the road to Qandahar, where he believed he had friends. Once again he found himself betrayed, and as he was endeavouring to make his escape from the citadel his horse was ham-strung under him and he himself was cut down after a desperate struggle.

Lotf Ali Khan was killed on 20 March 1794, having had his eyes torn out on the day he was captured—by Agha Mohammad, as the story has it—and been sent to Tehran, where he was savagely tortured and strangled. And Agha Mohammad’s revenge went much further:

The remaining members of the Zand family were either massacred or enslaved. Lotf Ali Khan’s infant son … was castrated. …

Shiraz, the centre of Zand influence, was inevitably marked for punishment. Her impregnable walls were destroyed; many of her buildings suffered permanent damage; and the Lak quarter was depopulated. The commercial and manufacturing activities of the city declined in consequence.

The body of Karim Khan Zand was transferred from Shiraz to Tehran and was there placed beneath the threshold of the palace so that Aqa Mohammad could enjoy the daily satisfaction of desecrating die body of the great foe of his house.

Kerman was systematically ravaged for three months. Twenty thousand women and children were handed over to the army or sold as slaves. For the male population, a different punishment was reserved and tradition relates that 7,000 eyes were brought to the conqueror, who personally counted them, informing the officer in charge of the operation: “Had one been missing, yours would have been taken!”

As a memorial to the downfall of the Zand dynasty, a pyramid of skulls was erected in Bam on the spot where Lotf Ali Khan had been captured. Six hundred prisoners were executed in Kerman and their heads were carried to Bam by a further three hundred who were decapitated when they reached their destination. According to Henry Pottinger, this monument was still standing in 1810.

As for the province of Kerman, it has never recovered from the Qajar fury, while it is only in the twentieth century that Shiraz has once more taken its traditional place among the leading cities of Iran.

CONSOLIDATING QAJAR RULE

The contest between the Qajars and Zands was an example of the key role tribal networks played in who got to control Iran, says Hambly. The full-scale triumph of Agha Mohammad—his suppression of Kerman, Fars, and Khuzestan to his will, and the elimination of Lotf and the Zand rivals—had two further important and interrelated effects.

The first positive of establishing order was that the roving armies that continually passed through certain zones, looting and raping and otherwise creating an atmosphere of insecurity, were gone. This meant crops could grow, which meant populations ceased to decline in those areas, and it meant traders, and a trading class, could be cultivated—a mutually-reinforcing cycle of economic and social recovery.

Second, with Iran’s internal divisions reduced, the Qajar regime was able to turn to the foreign threats that encircled Iran at the end of the 18th century. Hambly sketches the precarious situation for the new monarch:

In 1793, Zaman Shah, the grandson of Ahmad Shah Durrani, had fought his way to the Afghan throne. He was a man of ambition and considerable energy and would have been a most formidable rival to the Qajar chieftain if he had not been obsessed by the impracticable desire to regain his grandfather’s conquests in India. Even so, Afghanistan exercised a virtual protectorate over the province of Khorasan, where the blind Shah Rukh [a.k.a. Shahrokh] was an Afghan puppet, and in 1794 it would have been rash to prophesy that Khorasan would remain part of Iran indefinitely.

North of Khorasan lay the khanates of Khiva and Bukhara, two weak but rapacious states which were always ready to commit acts of brigandage even if they lacked the strength to do permanent damage. More troublesome than these were the Turkoman tribes east of the Caspian who were nominally under the Khan of Khiva but were in fact independent. Apart from nomadic agriculture their most lucrative occupation was the kidnapping of Persians for the great slave-emporium of Khiva, and not only Gorgan and Khorasan but even provinces deep in the interior of Iran were liable to suffer from their raids. Not until the Russian conquest of Khiva in 1873 and the massacre of the Turkomans by Skobelev at Geok Tepe in 1881 was Iran freed from this scourge.

In the Caucasus, beyond her own vassal khanates, Iran’s immediate neighbour was the ancient Christian kingdom of Georgia. Under the early Safavi rulers of the sixteenth century the kings of Georgia had been the vassals of the Shahs of Iran, but in the period which followed the death of Nadir Shah in 1747 Georgia had recovered her independence. In the second half of the eighteenth century her attitude towards her two Muslim neighbours, Iran and Turkey, was determined by the steady advance of Russia into the Caucasus. Between 1719 and 1721 Carl van Verden had surveyed the Caspian for Peter the Great who in 1722 marched into Dagestan and seized the great forts of Derbend and Baku. Peter’s scheme for making the Caspian a Russian lake came to nothing, for Nadir Shah easily recaptured Derbend and Baku, but a conscious policy of aggression had been initiated in the Caucasus and Catherine II proceeded to develop it as part of her policy for extending Russian power and influence in the Middle East. This coincided with the resurgence of an independent Georgia under Erekle II (1744-98). … [H]e signed a treaty [in 1783] with Russia in which Georgia severed forever her links with Iran and her king became the vassal of the Russian Tsar. … Unquestionably, Georgia had become a Russian protectorate and, in view of the hostility of the Christian Georgians for their Muslim neighbours, the spear-head for Russian penetration southwards.

The longest stretch of Iran’s frontier faced the Turkish provinces of Armenia and Mesopotamia. … [I]n the reign of Nadir Shah, the old [Ottoman-Iranian] feud had been vigorously prosecuted. But, since Karim Khan Zand’s abortive attack upon Basra [in 1775], relations between the Turkish Pashas of Baghdad and successive rulers on the Iranian plateau had been, for the most part, cordial.

It was a fortunate coincidence for the Qajars that during the period when Aqa Mohammad was fighting his way to the throne the Sublime Porte was preoccupied with Russian aggression.

The immediate threat, says Hambly, was Georgia. Agha Mohammad had, in 1780, allowed the Russians to establish a trading post at Ashraf, the modern Behshahr, before becoming suspicious of Russian intentions and forcibly expelling the whole base. During the final round with Lotf, Agha Mohammad had had to placate both the Georgians and the Russians. After he became Shah, Agha Mohammad had other ideas. Gathering a great force, and managing to do so in great secrecy, Agha Mohammad struck at Georgia in April 1795.

The Iranians advanced against Georgia on three axes: (1) through Shirvan and Dagestan; (2) the fortress at Shusha; and (3) Erivan, the capital of Armenia. The lack of artillery cover and siege equipment meant that there were considerable set-backs, at Shusha specifically. But once the grisly offensive was underway inside Georgia, the outcome was not really in doubt. Georgian King Heraclius II and some of his people were forced to flee into the mountains. The Georgian capital, Tbilisi, fell unopposed to the Persians on 11 September 1795, and the destruction was awful. “The city was systematically pillaged and burnt, and the citadel demolished”, Hambly writes. “Fifteen thousand young Georgians, male and female, were enslaved, but the remainder of the population was massacred as an example of the punishment future rebels would receive and—in the words of a contemporary Persian chronicler—in order to give ‘the unbelievers of Georgia a specimen of what they were to expect on the day of judgment’.” Erivan promptly capitulated; Shusha remained recalcitrant a while longer.

Only once Iran’s Kingdom was essentially unified, internal challengers defeated and foreign occupiers expelled, would Agha Mohammad hold his coronation. In March 1796, Agha Mohammad was crowned Shahanshah (King of Kings) with “the four-plumed crown of [Nader Shah,] which symbolized rule over Iran, Turkestan, Afghanistan and India”, Hambly explains. “It is a heavy, helmet-like crown made of copper and painted with simple designs. … [F]ollowing his coronation, he was girded with the sacred sword of the Safavis at Ardabil”, an Azeri-majority town in north-western Iran, bordering what is now Azerbaijan.

Following the Georgia campaign and his coronation, Agha Mohammad was palpably in control and now turned to the problem of Shahrokh, the blind pretender Shah nominally ruling Khorasan province, though really acting at the behest of the Afghans. Agha Mohammad announced his intention to visit the tomb of the Eighth Imam, Reza, at Mashhad; on the way, Agha Mohammad vigorously disciplined the Turkoman bandits in Gorgan. Shahrokh’s sons wisely fled to Afghanistan; their father was tortured until he disclosed the location of the jewels that Nader had acquired when he sacked Delhi. Shahrokh died at Damghan as he was being transferred to Tehran in 1796. Most of the population in Khorasan welcomed Agha Mohammad: it brought order to a notoriously lawless zone, and it provided protection against obviously imminent invasions from the Afghans and Uzbeks.

Agha Mohammad would likely have invaded Bukhara in 1797, but the Russian invasion of Iran began in April 1796, and in September Agha Mohammad was drawn away, back to Tehran. Agha Mohammad had prepared for war, as Hambly documents: “as an indication of the chastisement which he intended to inflict upon his enemies he brought twenty-seven captive Russian sailors to Tehran in chains, compelled them to gouge out the eyes of forty Iranians who had refused to join the army, and then had them strangled.” But Agha Mohammad was “well aware that his irregular cavalry could never face the artillery and disciplined troops of Russia and he told Hajji Ibrahim Khan that he could not risk a pitched battle but would destroy the invaders by guerrilla warfare and a scorched earth policy.” In the event, Agha Mohammad’s good luck held, as Hambly puts it: Catherine the Great died in November 1796, and her son and successor, Paul I, took power; he hated the Generals leading the Persian expedition and called them all back. Many of these military officials were so angry at the abortion of their mission that they led the assassination plot that felled Paul in March 1801, even though he had signed the decree that de jure annexed Georgia to Russia two months earlier.

In the spring of 1797, Agha Mohammad set out for Georgia once more, but on the way learned that Ibrahim Khalil Khan, the ruler of the Karabakh Khanate, had fled his capital city, Shusha, and was residing in Dagestan. Agha Mohammad was handed Shusha with little opposition, but he was murdered five days later, on 17 June 1797, in the most bizarre circumstances. From Hambly:

[H]earing two of his servants quarrelling noisily, [Agha Mohammad] ordered their immediate execution, but as it was Friday (the day of prayer) he postponed the execution until the following morning and with incredible recklessness allowed the servants to continue their duties in his quarters. While he was sleeping, they entered his tent and assassinated him.

Ibrahim Khalil Khan returned to Shusha, sent Agha Mohammad’s body to Tehran, and had his killers tortured to death and burned. This respectful treatment of the fallen Shah gained Ibrahim Khalil Khan goodwill from the Qajar regime, which, with a little help from Hajji Ibrahim, passed into the hands of Agha Mohammad’s nephew, Baba Khan, known in office as Fathali Shah.

Territorial losses of Iran during the 19th century [source]

AGHA MOHAMMAD’s LEGACY

In summing up, Hambly writes: “The character of Aqa Mohammad appears to be the most repulsive …, yet his achievement was indubitably positive.” His total destruction of the Zand dynasty and reconquest of Khorasan confirmed the contours of modern Iran, while his curbing of the Turkoman tribes set up a situation where they could be dealt with, rather than annexed by an outside power, a policy his successors down to the final monarch continued. It can be argued the attack on Georgia drew the Russians in, but just as plausibly they were coming anyway and Agha Mohammad drew a line for their expansion. It seems the final intent of Agha Mohammad had been an attack on Baghdad, a conscious retread of the path walked by his hero, Nader.

Agha Mohammad undoubtedly committed great cruelties. Hambly suggests this was less sadism for its own sake and more the mark of a man in a hurry: Agha Mohammad was old by the time he ascended to the throne; he did not have much time to reunify Iran. Showing great vigour for someone so senior, he succeeded in this mission. It is also not true that Agha Mohammad was impulsively vengeful or otherwise undisciplined in his violence: he had forgiven the murderers of his father for the sake of unity in the Qajar tribe, realising that the family rivalried were what would allow him to overthrow the Zand dynasty.

Nader is often more fondly remembered, notes Hambly, but he showed none of the instinct for caring about the public good that Agha Mohammad did:

[Agha Mohammad] had found Iran torn by civil war and by widespread violence and lawlessness; the revenue was uncollected; the administration of justice was utterly venal; the roads were unsafe and trade dislocated. During the short period of his reign a semblance of peace and orderly government was restored by the sheer terror of his displeasure. The revenue was assessed and paid; the treasury was filled; caravans crossed the country in relative security and merchants were encouraged to trade in every possible way; the cultivators knew that corrupt or disobedient officials would be ferociously punished; and the tribal khans were kept docile through dread of the Shah’s vengeance upon their relatives, kept in Tehran as hostages. Strong government returned to Iran such as the country had not experienced within living memory, and this achievement can be measured by the fact that, apart from the Caucasian provinces, the shape of modern Iran is almost identical with that which Aqa Mohammad bequeathed to his successors, while the growth of administrative centralization which has been a continued feature of nineteenth and twentieth century Iran was first initiated in his lifetime.

Agha Mohammad is the true founder of modern Tehran: “Recognizing that his power rested upon his own tribe in Gorgan, while the south was bitterly anti-Qajar, and sensing the need to be within reach of the critical Georgian and Turkish borders, he chose the position for his capital wisely. Lying midway between Tabriz and Mashhad and between Isfahan and the Caspian, Tehran had no distinguished past, whereas Isfahan was linked in the popular mind with the glory of the Safavis and Shiraz with the fortunes of the Zands. Yet it is an indication of the distaste with which modern Iranians look back to the career of Aqa Mohammad that his memory is nowhere commemorated by die name of a street or a square in the great city which owes its present importance to his ambitions.”

The opponents of Agha Mohammad in his lifetime had much to work with in making their case against him, but he had many supporters, too, who appreciated a government whose orders were carried out, an army that was regularly paid, and a measure of human security and prosperity not known for several generations. As Hambly concludes, Agha Mohammad might well have been the “last and most brutal of Iran’s tribal conquerors”; he “must also rank as one of the makers of modern Iran.”

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