History of Afsharid & Zand Eras (1736 – 1795)

Map showing the history of Afsharids
Iran at the time of Afsharids ruling on vast territories
Map showing the history of Afsharids
Iran at the time of Afsharids ruling in vast territories

The history of Afsharids happened in a short time. The history of Zand rulers was the same. These two eras were some of the most unstable eras of Iranian history.

Zand rulers had been governing southern Iran simultaneous with the final years of Safavids governing from Esfahan, central Iran. Afsharids took over the power by pushing out the Afghan invaders, who had finished the domination of Safavids in Esfahan. Here’s a more details account of what happened in Iran during the 18th century:

Rise of Nader, the Afsharid King

One of the sons of the last Safavid king, Sultan Hossein, who still knew himself as the king of Iran, was sitting on the throne in Qazvin. He, Tahmasb, was living at a time when many were fighting for different parts of Iran. Nader Qoly was also a governor in Abivard and Fasa on the part of Shah Tahmasb.

He was a military commander who had extended his territories up to Marv. Later he succeeded to seize Mashhad. Nader was going on so victoriously that Tahmasb’s role had lost color in the eyes of Iranians.

Nader was not from any big famous family. His ancestors were from the exiled Turkmen of Khorasan. He was just a warrior, but a warrior who had been able to show his bravery and wisdom. His popularity and abilities annoyed Tahmasb.

Nader seized Gorgan and sent a message to Russians to evacuate Gilan. They agreed to do so provided that Ottomans should not lay their hands on that region. So, Gilan was freed after 12 years. After Nader had subdued Herat’s Afghans, he freed Esfehan. It did not mean that the Safavid monarchy was revived.

Helpless and inefficient Shah Tahmasb who wanted to draw all attention to himself, in some maneuvers succeeded to yield some parts of the west and northwest of Iran to Russians and Ottomans. Therefore, Nader deposed him and replaced him with his infant so that he could rule on his part.

After a while, in a great assembly of governors, nobles, clergies, merchants, etc gathered together, he held ceremonies for his coronation. He set a condition to take office like a king: Everyone must set aside anti-Sunni biases. Then, the news of a coronation ceremony was dispatched to Istanbul and Saint Petersburg. Iranians POWs were released in exchange for the POWs of those two countries and peace was regained. The history of Afsharids was full of war due to the unstable situation in Iran and the need to re-establish law and order in the country.

India had given refuge to Afghan rebels and aggravated disagreements among Iranians. On the other hand, the government had problems paying its employees due to its empty treasury. So, Nader’s next step was to attack India.

Fall of the Afsharid Era

He succeeded in this military campaign. Later he led several other campaigns to suppress rebels here and there. Finally, he got very sick and bad-tempered. As a result of his annoying brutality, some Afshar and Qajar top military officers attacked his tent one night and assassinated him.

There were two factors involved in Nader’s changing character: absolute power in his hand and people’s habit of exaggeratedly admiring and flattering their popular heroes. The history of Afsharids declined with his death.

His death resulted in the deterioration of the organized system he had set in the army and administration. Rebels claimed power in various corners of the country. Shahrokh took control of the country after Nader had died and ruled as a local governor.

He could never gain control of Azarbaijan, Fars, and Iraq. On the other hand, all during his reign until Fath Ali Shah (Qajar king), he had encountered oppositions’ claiming power.

Rise of the Zand Era

Map showing History of Zand Era
Map of Iran at the time of Zand Era

Karimkhan-e-Znad, who was from Lak and Lur tribes, founded the Zand dynasty 18 years after the death of Nader Shah. He was a capable militant combating mainly against Ottoman occupiers.

The history of Zand rulers began with Karimkhan and his dynasty lasted a short while but brought back national unity, tranquility and some territorial integrity for the people. He called himself “Vakiloroaya” (meaning attorney of servants), not a king. He fought against all who claimed power, deposed the last inefficient Safavid ruler because of his failures and founded the Zand dynasty in Shiraz.

Shiraz flourished under his rule very much. He had citadels, bazaar, bathhouse, mosques, etc constructed. He also tried to establish security and justice and promoted trade and agriculture. Because of his character, one can refer to him as a fatherly character in governing, a sense of humor, respect for the learned, lack of bias in religion and lack of belief in superstitions.

Fall of the Zand Era

After his natural death, the same post-Nader problems emerged as the history of Zand rulers was coming to an end. Therefore, there happened a massacre and plunder in big cities like Shiraz, Esfehan, and Kerman. Fighting for power was not limited to the Zand family. There were Qajars claiming power too.

Agha Mohammad Khan was one of Qajars who persistently searched for the last prince of the Zand family to kill him. Finally, he succeeded and sent him to Tehran after he mutilated him.

Lotf Ali Khan was humiliated and tortured a lot before death. As the people of Kerman had given refuge to him, Agha Mohammad Khan decided to give them a lesson. So, by his order, all the men were either killed or blinded and children and women were given for his soldiers as sex slaves.

The bad blood continued leading the new kings to take revenge. This caused a lot of damages to the country and people paid the toll for it. Anyway, somehow Agha Mohammad Khan managed to bring some stability to the country, which you will read about in the Qajar Era’s account of Iranian History series.

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