Professor Pierre Oberling: The Kurdish Tribes

The article below is by Professor Pierre Oberling. This originally appeared in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue. The CAIS site is hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav. 

The version printed below is different from that CAIS version in that has accompanying pictures and descriptions.



 Kurdish tribes are found throughout Iranian world including Iran-proper, eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq, but very few comprehensive lists of them have been published.The one most often cited is that of François Bernard Charmoy, which was based on the Sharaf-nāma by the 16th-century Kurdish historian Sharaf-al-Din Bedlisi (q.v.; I, pp. 55-85).

An Iranian Kurdish girl.

An attempt to present an up-to-day list of Kurdish tribes follows.

Western Azarbaijan Province

 The most important Kurdish tribes in that region are Jalâli (q.v.; around Mâku), Milân (also around Mâku), Haydarânlu (on the Turkish border, southwest of Mâku), Donboli (q.v.; Azeri-speaking, around Khoy and Salmâs), Korahsunni (Kurdicized Azeris, southwest of Khoy), Shekkâk (south of Salmâs), Herki (around Urmia), Begzâda (south of Urmia), Zerzâ (on the Iraqi border, west of Ošnaviya), Pirân (on the Iraqi border, southwest of Naqada), Mâmaš (around Naqada), Mangur (southwest of Mahâbâd), Mokri (around Mahâbâd), Dehbokri (east of Mahâbâd), Gowrâk (south of Mahâbâd, around Sardašt and northwest of Saqqez), Malkâri (around Sardašt), Suseni (west of Saqqez), Fayzµ-Allâh-begi (northeast of Saqqez). (For details, see Afšâr Sistâni, pp. 137-95; Komisiun-e melli, pp. 117-29.).


East Azarbaijan province in Iran (right) and a traditional rug woven by Herki Kurds (left) (Picture source for left frame only: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Eastern Azerbaijan Province

 In Qarâjadâgh (today Arasbârân), that is, the region between the Aras river and the Sabalân mountain range, there are six Shi’ite, Turki-speaking tribes of Kurdish origin: Ùalabiânlu (q.v.), Mohammad Khânlu, Hosaynâklu, Hâji ‘Alilu (q.v.), Hasan Beglu, and Qarâchorlu. In Khalkhâl, that is, the region between the Bozghuš mountains and the Qezel Uzen (owzan) river, there are seven Shi’ite, Turki-speaking tribes of Kurdish origin: Delikânlu, Kolukjânlu (an offshoot of the Shekkâk), Shatárânlu (also an offshoot of the Shekkâk), Ahmadlu, Shâdlu, Rašvand, and Mâmânlu. Finally, there are Shi’ite, Turki-speaking Shekkâk occupying vast areas northeast and northwest of Miyâna. (See Afšâr-Sistâni, pp. 109-25; Oberling, 1964; idem, 1961, pp. 52-57, 80.).

A stucco of Zahak in Tabriz (left) and a 14th century map which (partially) shows the city of Tabriz as it appeared at that time. The legend of the blacksmith Kaveh, the legendary hero who defeats the evil Zahak, is an ancient Iranian folklore tradition that has endured throughout Iran and among Iranian peoples. The Kurds make a special tribute to kaveh every year when they celebrate the Iranian new year – the Nowruz (Picture source: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Kordestan Province

 The most important Kurdish tribes in this region are: Saršiv (on the Iraqi border, south of Bâna), Tilaku`i (Kurdicized Turks, around Sonnata and Zâgha), Bani Ardalân (around Senna [Sanandaj], Jâf (southwest of Senna [Sanandaj]), Hulilân (southeast of Kermânšâh), and the following tribes between Kermânšâh (present-day Bâkhtarân) and the Iraqi border: Gurân, Kalhor, Sanjâbi, Sharafbayâni, Kerindi, Bâjalân (q.v.), Nânakuli, and Zangana. (See Afšâr-Sistâni, pp. 223-59; Komisiun-e melli, pp. 130-33; also multiple entries in Nikitine and Arfa.).

Perspectives of the Moshir Divan building at Sanandaj (Picture source: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Hamadân Province

According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 86 and 98), the Kurdish tribes in this province are: Jamiri, Juzikân, and Shâhjân.

The tomb of Baba Taher in the city of Hamedan (ancient Ecbatana), capital of Hamedan province (left) and a Persian Tar stringed instrument (right). Baba Taher is one of the greatest writers of Persian literature – his poems were also composed in music.  Professor L. P. Elwell-Sutton notes of Baba Taher that “He could be described as the first great poet of Sufi love in Persian literature. In the last two decades his do-baytis [Persian quatrains or two -bayt metre poems] have often been put to music”. Although the precise dates of his birth date and time of passing remain unknown, it is generally believed that he may have been a contemporary of other legendary greats of Persian literature such as Firdowsi and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) who is also buried in Hamedan. Baba Taher’s works are also available in other Iranian languages such as Kurdish, Luri, and Mazandarani. Baba Taher’s poems are derived from the Middle-Persian (pre-Islamic) dialects known variously as Pahlavi (Picture source: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Luristan Province

According to Oskar Mann (p. XXIII), the Delfân and Selsela groups of tribes, the Armâ`i tribe of the Tarhân group of tribes, and the Bayrânvand tribe in the Piš-e Kuh speak Laki. According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 78, 86), both the Itivand and the Judeki tribes in the Piš-e Kuh are Kurdish. There is also a large tribe by the name of Kord in the Pošt-e Kuh (Rabino, 1916, pp. 40-45).

Khuzestân Province

There are three groups of Zangana and one of Jalâli in the Jânneki Garmsir, northeast of Ahvâz. They were brought there by Nadir Shah (Qâ`em Maqâmi). There was also a tribe by the name of Âl bu Kord which occupied seven villages on the Kârun river south of Ahvâz (Lorimer, II, pp. 121, 1042). 

Gilân Province

There have been two important Kurdish tribes in this province: Rišvand (or Rašvand) and ‘Amârlu (q.v.). According to Rabino, the Rišvand formed part of the Bâbân tribe of Solaymâniya and were moved to Gilân by Shah ‘Abbâs I. Later, they were chased out of most of their choice pasturelands by the ‘Amârlu, who were moved to Gilân from northwestern Persia by Nâder Shah (Rabino, 1916-17, pp. 260-61; tr., pp. 304-6). The Rišvand now live mostly in Qazvin province. The ‘Amârlu occupy some fifty villages between Menjil and Pirâkuh in southeastern Gilân. (See Fortescue, pp. 319-20; Mardukh Kordestâni, I, pp. 100-1; Afšâr Sistâni, pp. 132-34.).


Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) moved the Rišvand tribe from Suleiminaya (in modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan) to Gilan. Shah Abbas also commissioned Kurdish prince Sharafeddin to write the “Sharafname”, a Kurdish epic, in an endeavor to highlight the long-standing connections of the Iranic Kurds to the Iranian realm.

Mâzandarân Province

There are three major Kurdish tribes in the province: Modânlu (north of Sâri), Jahânbeglu (north of Sâri), and Khvâjavand (south of Nowšahr). The Khvâjavand tribe, according to L. S. Fortescue (p. 317), “was originally brought from Garru´s (q.v.) and Kurdista´n by Na´der Sha´h.” The Modânlu and Jahânbeglu tribes were probably also moved to Mâzanderân by Nâder Shah. According to Rabino (1913, p. 441).

Qazvin Province

The most important Kurdish tribes in this province are GÚiât¯vand (q.v.), Kâkâvand, Rišvand, and Ma’âfi. The GÚiât¯vand tribe dwells along the Qezel Uzen and Shâhrud rivers. According to Parviz Varjâvand (pp. 456-57), it was transplanted from western Persia by Âghâ Mohammad Khan Qâjâr. The Kâkâvand tribe lives northeast of Qerva, on the Siâh Dahân-Zanjân road. The Rešvand tribe occupies the districts of Alâmut and Rudbâr. The Ma’âfi tribe dwells near the Qazvin-Tehran road (Fortescue, pp. 325-26). According to Varjâvand (pp. 459-60), there are also small groups of Bâjalân, Behtu`i, Ùamišgazak, Jalilvand, and Kalhor in the province. 

Tehran Province

The Pâzuki tribe is the principal Kurdish group in the province. According to Albert Houtum-Schindler (p. 50), it was once a powerful tribe residing near Erzurum in Anatolia; but it was broken up in the late 16th century, a fragment settling down around Varâmin and GÚâr. In the Tehran region are also fragments of the following tribes: Hedâvand, Burbur, Uryâd, Zerger, Kord Bacha, Nânakuli, and Qarâchorlu (Kayhân, II, p. 111); and in Sâva there are Kalhor Kurds (Afšâr Sistâni, p. 1115).

Isfahan Province

According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, p. 79), there is a Kurdish tribe in this province by the name of Bâzinjân. Moreover, the name of the town Shahr-e Kord southwest of Isfahan evidence the existence of Kurds in that region in the past (cf. Kord in Fârs mentioned below). This is reinforced by the remarks of early Muslim geographers (Mas’udi, Tanbih, p. 88; EsÂtÂakhri, pp. 98-99, 115; Ebn Hawqal, p. 265; Moqaddasi, p. 447). 

Fârs Province

According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 75-117), there are more than thirty small Kurdish tribes in Fârs. Many of these are undoubtedly remnants of tribes that followed Karim Khan Zand to Fârs; after the fall of the Zand dynasty, they were absorbed as clans by the Qašqâ`i tribal confederacy. They include the Saqqez, Zangana (five separate groups, including one that today forms a clan of the Kaškuli Bozorg tribe of the Qašqâ`i), Kuruni, Ùegini (q.v.), Burbur and Uryâd (clans of the Qašqâ`i ‘Amala tribe), Lak and Vandâ (clans of the Qašqâ`i Darrašuri tribe), Kordlu (a clan of the Qašqâ`i Qarâ Ùâhilu tribe), and Kord-Shuli. (See Oberling, 1960, pp. 76-84; idem, 1974, pp. 225-31.) References to Kurdish tribes in Fârs, as well as to a town called Kord in the Isfahan area, go back to the 10th century (Mas’udi, Tanbih, pp. 88-89; Ebn Khordâdbeh, p. 47; Estakhri, pp. 113 ff., 125; Ebn Hawqal, pp. 264-65, 269, 270-71; Moqaddasi, p. 446). According to Ebn al-Balkhi, the five major Kurdish tribes of Fârs had been annihilated during the Arab conquest, and the Kurds that were in Fârs in the 12th century, other than the Shabânkâra, had been brought there by the Buyid ‘Azµad-al-Dawla. There were many Kurds in Fârs in the 11th century, including as many as five tribes of Shabânkâra (Ebn al-Balkhi, tr. pp. 5-13). Although Ebn Balkhi distinguishes the Shabânkâra from the original Kurdish tribes of Fârs, the name of one of the Shabânkâra five clans, Râmâni (the other four are Esmâ’ili, Karzubi, Mas’udi, Shakâni), is identical with that of a Kurdish tribe of Fârs mentioned in early sources (Estakhri, p. 114; Ebn Hawqal, p. 270; Moqaddasi, p. 446). The Shabânkâra seized power from the Buyids in Fârs in 1062 and founded a dynasty of tribal rulers there (Ebn Balkhi, pp. 164-67; Bosworth, p. 156). Some of the Shabânkâra settled down in the district of Simakân, between Shiraz and Jahrom (Hasan Fasâ`i, II, p. 314). Today, there is still a district by the name of Shabânkâra near Bušehr.

An entrance road towards the city of Shahr-e-Kord [lit. City of Kurd or Kurd-city], known until 1935 as Deh-e-Kord [lit. Village of Kurd or Kurd-village], is the capital of the Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari Province. Today only a fraction of the city’s inhabitants are of Kurdish descent. Shahr-e-Kord boasts an excellent ski resort known as Bardeh as well as beautiful lagoons and numbers of small lakes (Picture source: Mani Moradi).

Khorasan Province

There are many thousands of Kurds in Khorasan, and most of them are descendants of tribesmen who were moved into the province by Shah ‘Abbâs I around 1600. The most important Kurdish tribes in Khorasan are: ‘Amârlu (in the Marusk plain, northwest of Nišâpur), Shâdlu (in the district of Bojnurd), Za’farânlu (in the districts of Shirvân and Quchân), Keyvânlu (in the districts of Joveyn, Darragaz, and Radkân), Tupkânlu (around Joveyn and Nišâpur), and Qarâchorlu (in the districts of Bojnurd, Shirvân, and Quchân). (See: Afšâr Sistâni, pp. 984-1104; Ivanow, pp. 150-52.) The recent study of Mohammad-Hosayn Pâpoli Yazdi shows the extent to which the Kurds of Khorasan have become sedentary (pp. 23-37). 

Kermân Province

According to Percy Sykes (p. 210), there was a small Kurdish tribe in the Sârdu (or Sârduya) region in 1900. Until recently, there was also a clan of the Afšâr tribe of Kermân by the name of Mir Kord (Oberling, 1960, p. 115). 

Baluchistan Province

There are Kurds in northeastern Persian Baluchistan, who might be the descendants of tribesmen who accompanied the luckless LotÂf-’Ali Khan Zand on his desperate flight to Bam in 1794. Until the 1880s, they were dominant in Khâš, and their leader was known as the Sardâr of the Sarhad (Sykes, pp. 106, 107, 131; see also Bestor). Today, they are widely scattered, some of them living on the southern slopes of the Kuh-e Taftân, others dwelling around Magas (today, Zâbol); and still others are settled in Sistân (Afšâr Sistâni, p. 918). Hosayn-’Ali Razmârâ mentions eight villages in the district of Bampošt that are inhabited by Baluchi-speaking Zand tribesmen (VIII, pp. 187, 248, 313, 315, 322, 372, 384). These probably moved to Baluchistan at the same time as the Kurds of Khâš.


Most of the Kurds in Turkey have become sedentary and many have lost their tribal identity. According to Mardukh Kordestâni (I, pp. 75-117), at the beginning of the 20th century the principal Kurdish tribes of Turkey were the following. They are listed according to district (velâyat).

Girl from the ZaZa clan in Turkey derived from the ancient Mede tribe of the Dimili (Picture source: Mani Moradi).

For more information on Kurdish tribes in Turkey, see Ott Blau (pp. 608-9), Mark Sykes (pp. 451-86), and Badile Nikitine (pp. 161-62).

Adéaman: Telyâ.

Afyon: Jahânbegli.

Ag¡ri: Sâderli, Khâlati, Haydarânli, Hamadikân, Zilânli, Bâdeli, Âdamânli, Bašmânli, Jalâli, Bâzikli.

Amasya: Aruk.

Ankara: ‘Amarânli, Nâsáerli, Zirikânli, Judikânli, Tirikân.

Bitlis: Mudeki, Khâzali, Hasanânlu, Âtamânikân, Jabbarânli.

Diârbakér: Diârbakri, Musek, Shaykhdudânli, Surkišli, Dersimli, Khâzâli, Bešeri, Tirikân, Purân, Bekirân, Raškutânli.

Elazig¡: Gurus, Kulbaban, Sinân, šmišârt, Behirmâz.

Erzurum: Herka`i, Zirikânli, Hasanânli, Piziânli, Rašvân.

Gaziantep: Delikânli.

Hakâri: Kekâ, Shemsiki, Neri, Hakâri, Hasanânlu, Balikâr, Dinâri.

Kaysari: Hâjibânli.

Kiršehir: ‘Amarânli, Tâburowghli, Barakatli.

Konya: Khalkâni.

MalatÂya: Sinâminli.

Maraš (Mar’aš): Gugarišânli, Kikân, Vâliâni, Nederli, Nâšâdirâ, Dughânli, Delikânli, Jelikânli, Balikânli.

Mardin: Dâkhuri, Tur’âbedin.

Muš: Mâmakânli, Lulânli, Shekerli, Panjinân, Silukân, Selivân, Hasanânli, Azli, Panijâri, Zerzân, Balikân.

Siirt (Se’ert): Mirân, Musek, Kaviân, Dersimli, Dâkhuri, Hosayni, Jaziriân, Panjinân.

Sivâs: Kucheri, Âkhchešmi

Tokat (Toqat): Aruk.

Tunceli (Tunjeli): Milli, Dersimli.

Urfa: Givarân, ‘Aluš, Ùâpkasân, Abu Tâher, Emerzân, Bârân.

Van: Mahmudi, Herka`i, ‘Isâ`i, Yazidi, Sepikânli, Duderi, Khâni, Jelikânli, Tâkuli, Tâpiân, Bârezânli.

Yozgat: Mâkhâni, Khâtunoghli, Tâburoghli. 

Khvarvaran & Asuristan (today known as Iraq)

There are still many powerful Kurdish tribes in Iraq. According to Mohammad-Amin Zaki (pp. 399-410), the most important Kurdish tribes in Iraq in 1931 were the following. They are listed according to geographical region (urban center).

Kurdish Jews in Rawanduz, modern-day Iraq in 1905. Interestingly, many surviving Kurdish Jews from older generations were able to speak Aramaic.

For more information on the Kurdish tribes of Iraq, see Henry Field (1940), Cecil John Edmonds, and Hasan Arfa.

Arbil: Âko, Dizâ`i, Surchi, Gerdi, Herki, Bârzân (q.v.), Buli, Shirvân wa Barâdust (q.v.), Zârâri, Khilâni, Bervâri Bâlâ, Bervâri Ûiri, Khošnâv, Pirân.  

Khâneqin: Bâjalân, Zenda, Leylâni, Kâka`i, Shaykh-bazini, Bibâni, Dâwuda, Kâkhevâr, Pâlâni, Kâghânlu. 

Kerkuk: Sharafbayâni, Barzenji, Dilo, Tâlebâni, Jabbâri, Shuhân, Zangana, ‘Amarmel, Sâlehi. 

Mandali: Qarâ ‘Alus. 

Mosul: Sheqqâq, Duski, Zibâri, Misuri, Ârtuš, Sendi. 

Solaymâniya: Jâf, Marivâni, Pišdar, Hamâvand, Âvrâmi, and Esmâ’il ‘Azizi. 

Kurdish man in northwest Iran engaged in the worship of Mithras in a Pir’s (mystical leader/master) sanctuary which acts as a Mithraic temple (Courtesy Kasraian & Arshi, 1993, Plate 80). Note how he stands below an opening allowing for the “shining of the light”, almost exactly as seen with the statue in Ostia, Italy. These particular Kurds are said to pay homage to Mithras three times a day.


Iraj Afšâr Sistâni, Ilhâ, chadornešinân wa táawâyef-e ‘ašâyeri-e Irân, 2 vols., Tehran, 1987.  

Hassan Arfa, The Kurds: An Historical and Political Study, London, 1966.  

Sharaf al-Din Bedlisi, Sharaf-nâma, tr. François Bernard Charmoy as Cheàref-Nâmeh, ou fastes de la nation kourde, 2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1868-75.  

Jane Bestor, “The Kurds of Iranian Baluchistan: A Regional Elite,” M.A. Thesis, McGill University, 1979.  

Otto Blau, “Nachrichten über kurdische Stämme,” ZDMG 16, 1862, pp. 607-27.  

Clifford E. Bosworth, “Shabânkâra,” in EI2 IX, p. 156.  

Cecil John Edmonds, Kurds, Turks and Arabs, London, 1957.  

Ebn al-Balkhi, Fârs-nâma, ed. Guy Le Strange, Cambridge, 1921; geographical section translated by Guy Le Strange as “Description of the Province of Fars in Persia at the Beginning of the Fourteenth Century A.D.,” JRAS 1912, pp. 1-30, also published separately as Asia Society Monograph 14, London, 1912.

Hasan Fasâ`i, Fârs-nâma-ye nâsáeri, lith., 2 vols., Tehran, 1895-96.   

Henry Field, Contributions to the Anthropology of Iran, 2 vols., Chicago, 1939.

Idem, The Anthropology of Iraq, 2 vols., Chicago, 1940.  

L. S. Fortescue, Military Report on Tehran and Adjacent Provinces of North-Western Persia, Calcutta, 1922.  

Albert Houtum-Schindler, Eastern Persian Iraq, London, 1897.  

Wladmir Ivanow, “Notes on the Ethnology of Khurasan,” The Geographical Journal 67, January-June 1926, pp. 143-58.

Mas’ud Kayhân, Joghrâfiâ-ye mofasásáal-e Irân, 3 vols., Tehran, 1932-33.  

Komisiun-e melli-e Yunesko (UNESCO) dar Irân, Irânšahr, 2 vols., Tehran, 1963-65, I, pp. 117-38.  

J. G. Lorimer, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, ‘Omân, and Central Arabia, 2 vols.,Calcutta, 1908.  

Oskar Mann, Die Mundarten der Lur-Stämme in sudwestlichen Persien, Berlin, 1910.

Mohammad Mardukh Kordestâni, Târikh-e Mardukh: Târikh-e Kord wa Kordestân, 2 vols. in one, Tehran, 1973.

Basile Nikitine, Les Kurdes: e‚tude sociologique et historique, Paris, 1956.

Pierre Oberling, The Turkic Peoples of Southern Iran, Cleveland, 1960. Idem, The Turkic Peoples of Iranian Azerbaijan, Cleveland, 1961.

Idem, “The Tribes of Qarâcha Dâgh: A Brief History,” Oriens 17, 1964, pp. 60-95.

Idem, The Qashqâ`i Nomads of Fârs, The Hague, 1974. 

Mohammad-Hossein Papoli Yazdi, Le nomadisme dans le nord du Khorassan, Paris, 1991.  

Jahângir Qâ`em Maqâmi, “‘Ašâyer-e Khuzestân,” Yâdgâr 3/9, 1946-47, pp. 10-22.  

Hyacinth Louis Rabino, “A Journey in Mazanderan (from Rasht to Sari),”Geographical Journal 42, Jul.-Dec. 1913, pp. 435-54. Idem, Les tribus du Louristan, Paris, 1916.

Idem, “Les provinces caspiennes de la Perse: le Guilan,” RMM 32, 1916-17, pp. 1-283; tr. by Ja’far Khomâmizâda as Welâyât-e Dâr-al-Marz-e Gilân, Tehran, 1978.  

Hosayn-’Ali Razmârâ, Farhang-e jogrâfiâ`i-e Irân VIII, Tehran, 1953.

Mark Sykes, “The Kurdish Tribes of the Ottoman Empire,” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 38, 1908, pp. 451-86.  

Percy Molesworth Sykes, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902.

Parviz Varjâvand, Sarzamin-e Qazvin, Tehran, 1970.  

Mohammad-Amin Zaki, Kholâsa târikh al-Kord wa’l-Kordestân, Baghdad, 1939.

Professor B. A. Litvinsky: Helmets of Partho-Sassanian Iran

The posting below highlights Professor B. A. Litvinsky’s discussion of Partho-Sassanian helmets in an article on pre-Islamic helmets in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 2003.

The version printed below is different from that which appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica in that (excepting the drawing panel entitled “Figures 34-58“) it has embedded two paintings and a photo produced in textbooks published  by Osprey Publishing. All descriptions under the paintings and photo (excepting the drawing panel entitled “Figures 34-58)  are from Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006


Helmets of the Parthian period are known from works of art. A sculptured head from Nisa (2nd–1st cent. B.C.E.) wears a bowl-shaped helmet with corrugated visor, high crest, and moveable cheekpieces. This type of helmet probably goes back to Hellenistic prototypes. Ares and Athena depicted on the rhyta from Nisa wear helmets of different types. A late Parthian helmet appears on the rock-relief in Firuzābād (see ARDAŠIR I ii.). It is a hemispherical helmet of a noble Parthian with a neck-guard surmounted with a knob and a plume.
A recreation by Peter Wilcox (painting by the late Angus McBride) of the battle at Firuzabad between the Parthians, led by Ardavan V (r. 219-224) and the Sassanians led by Ardashir I (r. from 206 AD at Istakhr and died as king of Sassanian Iran in 241 AD). Interestingly, the panel at Firuzabad shows the battle in the manner of a grand joust. The helmet of the young Sassanian knight (1) is different from that of his Parthian counterpart (2) in that the latter sports Sarmatian style scale armour for neck protection. In the background rides a Sassanian standard bearer whose helmet also sports mail, which was invented later than scale armour (Picture source: Wilcox, Rome’s Enemies” Parthians and Sassanid Persians, Osprey Publishing, 1986, Plate D).
Graffiti from Dura-Europos depict late Parthian conical helmets of several rows of metal plates fastened together with rivets (Du Mesnil du Buisson, 1936, pp. 192-97, fig. 16; Rostov-tzeff, 1933, p. 216, pl. XXXIII/2; Ghirshman, 1962, figs. 62, 100, 165; James, 1986, pp. 118-28, figs. 13-18; Gall, 1990, p. 69; Invernizzi, 1999, pp. 22-24, fig. 6, pl. A). Several types of helmets were in use in Central Asia in the Kushan period. In Bactria there were conical ribbed helmets.

Figures 34-58. Pre-Islamic helmets, 2nd century B.C.E.–7th century C.E. 34. Archebius; 35. 36. Helmet of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratidus I, on a bronze medallion from the Temple of the Oxus. Antialcidas; 37. Menander. 38. Antimachus. 39-40. Bronze cheek-plates of Hellensitic helmets, from the Temple of the Oxus. 41. Parthian helmet of a clay sculpture, from Old Nisa. 42. Parthian helmet, represented on Ardašir I’s rock-relief at Firuzābād. 43. Parthian helmet, graffito from Dura-Europos. 44. Kushan helmet depicted on the coin of Kujula Kadphises. 45. Kushan helmet on the coin of Huvişka. 46. Kushan helmet, terrakota from Kitab (Kashka-Darĭa[Kaška-Daryā] region). 47. Kushan helmet from Taxila. 48. Kushan helmet, from a sculpture, Khalchayan. 49. Kushan helmet (reconstruction by M. Gorelik), Charsada (Čārsada). 50. Sasanian helmet, on a rock-relief at Naqš-e Rostam. 51. Sasanian helmet (Brussels museum). 52. Sasanian helmet (Iraq Museum, Baghdad). 53. Sasanian helmet (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). 54-58. Sogdian helmets (54. from Varakhsha [Varaḵša]; 55-58. from Penjikent).

One of the Khalchayan sculptures shows an egg-shaped helmet with a low visor projecting forward and a horizontal welt running along the edge of the bowl. Remains of a Kushan helmet made of narrow vertical plates of iron were found in Charsada (Čārsada). The helmet was a standard item in Sasanian armor (Ṭabari, tr. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 248-49). Finds of early Sasanian helmets include one from Dura-Europos consisting of two halves riveted to two bars and provided with a pointed apex; a mail piece was attached to its lower edge. Many figures represented on Sasanian rock reliefs of the 3rd-4th centuries C.E. wear hemispherical helmets with neckpieces and bindings along the base. On Naqš-e Rostam No. 5, the cap is ornamented and has a knob on the top, while a mail piece is attached to the lower edge (Herrmann, 1977, p. 7, Pls. 1-3).

Sassanian Spangenhelm Helmet recovered from Nineveh in modern-day Iraq which would have been a part of Sassanian Enpire (224-651 AD) at the time. The Spangenhelm helmet was constructed by fastening metal plates together by rivets (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey Publishing, pp.223).

The greater ayvān of Ṭāq-e Bostān attributed to Ḵosrow II (591-628) shows a different kind of helmet, namely the “segmented” or “‘four-spanged helmet” [spangen helmet] (Fukai and Horiuchi, 1972, Pl. 36; Fukai et al., 1984, pp. 69-70); several helmets of this type are known. These are egg-shaped, made of four vertical iron segments fastened below with a horizontal bronze rim, from which come wide bronze bands crossing at the top. To these bands the iron segments are riveted; the latter are covered with thin, silver leaves for ornamentation. The horizontal rim has holes in its lower part through which a piece of chain mail extending from the shoulders was attached to the helmet (Granicsay, 1948-49, pp. 272-81; Harper, 1978, pp. 89-90, fig. 31; Overlaet, 1982, pp. 193-96, Pls. I-V).

Sassanian knight at the time of Shapur II (309–379) engaging Roman troops invading Iran in 333 AD. Note the Spangenhelm helmet and suit of mail covering arms and torso. This knight resembles early Sassanian warriors in which he sports a decorative vest and a medallion strap on his chest; he also dons a Spangenhelm helmet. He has lost his lance in an earlier assault and is now thrusting his heavy broadsword using the Sassanian grip (known in the west as the ‘Italian’ grip) in the forward position for maximum penetration effect. The sword handle is based on that depicted for one of Shapur I’s swords (British Museum B.M.124091); the sheath is based on the Bishapur depictions. His sword tactic is meant for shock and short engagements; he will then retire and discharge missiles. The bow and missiles in the left hand will be deployed as the knight redeploys at least 20 meters away. The quiver is modelled on that of King Pirooz (New York Metropolitan Museum Inv.34.33) (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, Osprey Publishing, 2005, Plate D, pp.61) .

For a detailed discussion about the origin and typology of Sasanian helmets, see von Gall, 1990, pp. 69-72. Monumental art of Central Asia indicates that in that region several other types of helmets were used in the 6th-7th centuries. The most common was a sphero-conical helmet, which was hemispheroid in its lower half but gradually turned into a cone towards the top and was surmounted with a finial ornament. The rim was decorated with festoons. Often it was provided with a narrow bar protecting the nose and with cheekpieces. A piece of chain mail attached to the helmet covered the neck, shoulders, and almost the whole face except the eyes. Such helmets were most often constructed of metal plates, although there were also some made of multiple scales mounted on leather background (Shishkin, 1963, p. 163, Pl. XVII; Belenitskiĭ, 1973, Pls. 8, 9, 12, 21; Raspopova, 1980, p. 84, figs. 57-59).


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A. M. Belenitskiĭ, Monumental’noe iskusstvo Pendzhikenta: Zhivopis’. Skul’ptura (Monumental art of Penjikent: painting. sculpture), Moscow, 1973.

St. Bittner, Tracht und Bewaffung das persischen Heeres zur Zeit Achaemeniden, 2nd ed., Munich, 1985.

A. D. H. Bivar, “Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 26, 1972, pp. 273-307.

W. Brandenstein and M. Mayrhofer, Handbuch des Altpersischen, Wiesbaden, 1964.

O. M. Dalton, The Treasure of the Oxus, 3rd ed., London, 1964.

R. E. V. Chernenko, Skifskiĭ dospekh (Scythian armor),Kiev, 1968.

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Sh. Fukai and K. Horiuchi, Taq-i Bustan II. Plates, Tokyo, 1972.

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Sh. Fukai et al., Taq-i Bustan IV, Tokyo, 1984. R. Ghirshman, Iran. Parthians and Sassanians, London, 1962.

M. V. Gorelik, “Zashchitnoe vooruzhenie persov i mid-yan achemenidskogo vremeni” (Persian and Median armor in the Achaemenid period), VDI,1982, 3, pp. 90-106.

Idem, “Kushanskiĭ dospekh” (Kushan armor), in G. M. Bongard-Levin ed., Drevnyaya India. Istoriko-kul’turnye svyazi, Moscow, 1982.

S. V. Grancsay, “A Sasanian Chieftain’s Helmet,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, April 1963, pp. 253-62.

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G. Hermnann, Naqsh-i Rustam 5 and 8. Sasanian Reliefs Attributed to Hormizd II and Narseh (Iranische Denkmäler. Lieferung 8. Reihe II: Iranische Felsreliefs D), Berlin, 1977.

A. Invernizzi, Sculpture di metallo da Nisa. Cultura greca e cultura iranica in Partia (Acta Iranica, ser. 3, vol. 21), Lovanii, 1999.

S. James, “Evidence from Dura Europos for the Origin of Late Roman Helmets,” Syria 63, 1986, pp. 107-34.

B. A. Litvinsky, “History of the Helmet in Bactriana,” Information Bulletin of the International Association of the Cultures of Central Asia No. 22, Moscow, 2000.

Idem, Khram Oksa v Baktrii (Yuzhnyĭ Tadzhikistan), Tom. 2. Baktriĭskoe vooruzhenie v drevnevostochnom i grecheskom kontekste (The temple of the Oxus in Bactria [South Tadzhikistan].

Bactrian arms and armor in the ancient Eastern context), Moscow, 2001, pp. 364-81 (with detailed bibliography).

B. Litvinsky and I. V. P’yankov, “Voennoe dele y narodov Sredneĭ Azii v VI- IV vv. do n. e. (Warfare of the peoples of Central Asia in the 6th–4th centuries B.C.E.),” VDI , 1966, 3, pp. 36-52.

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A. Mallwitz and H.-V. Herrmann, eds., Die Funde aus Olympia, Athens, 1980.

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B. J. Overlaet, “Contribution to Sasanian Armament in Connection with a Decorated Helmet,” Iranica Antiqua 17, 1982, pp. 189-206.

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V. A. Shish-kin, Varakhsha, Moscow, 1963. M. Rostovtzeff, “Pictures Graffiti,” in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report. Fourth Season of Work, New Haven, 1933.

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H. von Gall, Das Reiterkampfbild in der iranischen und iranisch-beeinflussten Kunst parthischer und sasanidischer Zeit (Teheranischer Forschungen, Bd. VI), Berlin, 1990.

Professor Ernest Tucker: Nader Shah

The article below is by Professor Ernest Tucker and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica . on August 15, 2006. Kindly note that version printed below is different in that in the Encyclopedia Iranica  in that it has pictures, maps and captions not seein in the Encyclopedia Iranica version.

Readers are also invited to consult Professor Michael Axworthy’s excellent book entitled:

Title: The Sword of Persia: Nadir Shah from Tribal warrior to Conquering Tyrant. 

Publisher: I.B. Taurus Publishers, 2009.

ISBN-10: 9781845119829

ISBN-13: 978-1845119829



Nader Shah was the ruler of Iran in 1736-47. He rose from obscurity to control an empire that briefly stretched across Iran, northern India, and parts of Central Asia. He developed a reputation as a skilled military commander and succeeded in battle against numerous opponents, including the Ottomans and the Mughals. During Nāder’s campaign in India, and several years after he had replaced the last Safavid ruler on the Persian throne, the elimination of much of the Safavid family effectively ended any real possibility of a Safavid restoration. The decade of Nāder’s own tumultuous reign was marked by conflict, chaos, and oppressive rule. Nāder’s troops assassinated him in 1747, after he had come to be regarded as a cruel and capricious tyrant. His empire quickly collapsed, and the resulting fragmentation of Iran into several separate domains lasted until the rise of the Qajars decades later.

Statue of Nader Shah Afshar in Mashhad, the provincial capital of Khorasan. Nader Shah’s tomb restoration project was led by Houshang Seyhoun in the 1950s, with the 6.5-meter statue being sculpted by Abolhasan Seddighi. The latter reconstructed Nader’s face and features in accordance with historical illustrations.  The sculpting process took place in the Borooni workshop supervised by the Italian Embassy in Tehran (Picture source: Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Born in November 1688 into a humble pastoral family, then at its winter camp in Darra Gaz in the mountains north of Mashad, Nāder belonged to a group of the Qirqlu branch of the Afšār (q.v.) Turkmen. Beginning in the 16th century, the Safavids had settled groups of Afšārs in northern Khorasan to defend Mashad against Uzbek incursions.

The first major international political event that directly affected Nāder’s career was the Afghan invasion of Iran in the summer of 1719 that resulted in the capture of Isfahan and deposition of Shah Solṭān Ḥosayn, the last Safavid monarch, by the autumn of 1722. After the fall of Isfahan, Safavid pretenders emerged all over Iran. One was Solṭān Ḥosayn’s son Ṭahmāsb, who escaped to Qazvin, where he was proclaimed Shah Ṭahmāsb II. He led a resistance movement against the Afghans during the 1720s. The Russians and Ottomans saw the Afghan conquest as their own opportunity to acquire territory in Iran, so both invaded and occupied some land in 1723. The following year they signed a treaty in which they recognized each other’s territorial gains and agreed to support the restoration of Safavid rule.

The Shamshir sword attributed to Nader Shah presently housed in the Nader Museum of Mashad (Muzeye Naderi ye Mashad) [Click to enlarge] (Picture Source:  Khorasani, Manouchehr, Arms and Armour from Iran: The Bronze Age to the end of the Qajar Period,  Legat Verlag, 2006, p.483).

Around this time, Nāder began his career in Abivard, an Afšār-controlled town just north of Mashad. He made himself so useful to the local ruler Bābā ʿAli Beg that he gave Nāder two of his daughters in marriage. Due to internal tribal rivalries, Nāder was not able to become Bābā ʿAli’s successor, so he vied for power with various upstart military chiefs in northeastern Iran who had emerged in the wake of the Afghan invasion.

In the mid 1720s, Nāder played an important role in defeating Malek Maḥmud Sistāni, one of that area’s main warlords, who had set himself up as the scion of the 9th-10th century Saffarid dynasty. Nāder was his ally for a while but soon turned against him. His role in suppressing this usurper brought him to Ṭahmāsb’s attention. Ṭahmāsb chose him as his principal military commander to replace Fatḥ ʿAli Khan Qajar (d. 1726, q.v.), whose descendants (the founders of the Qajar dynasty) blamed Nāder for the murder of their ancestor.

With this promotion, Nāder assumed the title Ṭahmāsb-qoli (servant of Ṭahmāsb). His prestige steadily increased as he led Ṭahmāsb’s armies to numerous victories. He first defeated the Abdāli (later known as Dorrāni; q.v.) Afghans near Herat in May 1729, then achieved victory over the Ḡilzi (q.v.) Afghans led by Ašraf at Mehmāndust on 29 September 1729. After this battle, when Ašraf fled from Isfahan to Qandahar, Ṭahmāsb became finally established in Isfahan (with Nāder in actual control of affairs) by December 1729, marking the real end of Afghan rule in Iran. In the wake of Ašraf’s defeat, many Afghan soldiers joined Nāder’s army and proved helpful in many subsequent battles.

Map of Nader Shah’s empire [Click to Enlarge], just prior to the invasion of India (Picture Source, Farrokh, Kaveh, Iran at War: 1500-1988, Osprey Publishing, p. 86).

Three months before the Mehmāndust victory, Nāder had sent letters to the Ottoman Sultan Aḥmad III (r. 1703-30) to ask for help, since Ṭahmāsb “was made the legitimate successor of his esteemed father [Solṭān Ḥosayn]” (Nāṣeri, p. 210). Receiving no response, Nāder attacked the Ottomans as soon as Ašraf was defeated and Isfahan reoccupied. He waged a successful campaign during the spring and summer of 1730 and recaptured much territory that the Ottomans had taken in the previous decade. But, just as the momentum of his offensive was building, news came from Mashad that the Abdāli Afghans had attacked Nāder’s brother Ebrāhim there and pinned him down inside the city’s walls. Nāder rushed to relieve him. (This distraction came at just the right time for the Ottomans, since in Istanbul the Patrona Halil rebellion, which led to the deposition of Aḥmad III, broke out in September 1730.) Nāder arrived in Mashad in time to attend the wedding of his son Reżā-qoli to Ṭahmāsb’s sister Fāṭema Solṭān Begum.

Nāder spent the next fourteen months subduing Abdāli forces led by Allāh-Yār Khan. To commemorate his victory over them, he endowed in Mashad a waqf (pious foundation) at the shrine (see ĀSTĀN-E QODS-E RAŻAWI) of Imam ʿAli al-Reżā (d. ca. 818, q.v.). Nāder’s personal seal, preserved on the waqf deed of June 1732, showed his unremarkable Shiʿite loyalty at that time: Lā fatā illā ʿAli lā sayf illā Ḏu’l-Faqār / Nāder-e ʿaṣr-am ze loṭf-e Ḥaqq ḡolām-e hašt o čār (There is no youth more chivalrous than ʿAli, no sword except Ḏu’l-Faqār (q.v.) / I am the rarity of the age, and by the grace of God, the servant of the Eight and Four [i.e., the Twelve Imams].” (Šaʿbāni, p. 375; cf. Rabino, p. 53). Ṭahmāsb took Nāder’s absence in Khorasan as his own chance to attack the Ottomans and pursued a disastrous campaign (January 1731–January 1732), in which the Ottomans actually reoccupied much of the territory recently lost to Nāder. Sultan Maḥmud I (r. 1730-54) negotiated with Ṭahmāsb a peace agreement that allowed the Ottomans to retain these lands, while returning Tabriz to avoid angering Nāder. Three weeks later, Russia and Persia signed the Treaty of Rašt, in which Russia, trying to curry favor with Persia against the Ottomans, agreed to withdraw from most of the Iranian territory it had annexed in the 1720s.

When Nāder learned that Ṭahmāsb had relinquished substantial territory to the Ottomans, he quickly returned to Isfahan. He used the peace treaty as an excuse to remove Ṭahmāsb from the throne in August 1732 and replace him with Ṭahmāsb’s eight-month-old son, who was given the regnal name ʿAbbās III. Now regent, Nāder resumed hostilities against the Ottomans. After a decisive round of victories, interspersed with short excursions to quell uprisings in Fārs and Baluchistan, he signed a new treaty in December 1733 with Aḥmad Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Baghdad. It marked an attempt to reinstate the provisions of the 1049/1639 Ottoman-Safavid Treaty of Qaṣr-e Širin (Ḏohāb), since it called for the restoration of the borders stipulated at that time, a prisoner exchange, and Ottoman protection for all Persian ḥajj pilgrims. The Ottoman sultan would not ratify it, because disputes persisted over control of parts of the Caucasus, and so intermittent hostilities continued.

In March 1734, Šāhroḵ was born to Reżā-qoli and Fāṭema Begum. Šāhroḵ thus formed a direct link between the lineages of Nāder and the Safavids—an important basis for Šāhroḵ’s eventual right to rule. The choice to name his grandson after Šāhroḵ b. Timur (r. 1409-47) revealed Nāder’s growing interest in emulating the conqueror Timur (r. 1369-1405).

A recreation of a Zanbourak camel artillery unit during the 2,500 year celebrations held in Persepolis in 1971 [Click to enlarge] (Picture Source: Booklet of 2,500 Year Celebrations in 1971).

There followed another series of Ottoman-Persian battles in the Caucasus, and Nāder’s capture of Ganja (q.v.), during the siege of which Russian engineers provided assistance. Russia and Persia then signed a defensive alliance in March 1735 at Ganja. In the treaty, the Russians agreed to return most of the territory conquered in the 1720s. This agreement shifted the regional diplomatic focus to a looming Ottoman-Russian confrontation over control of the Black Sea region and provided for Nāder a military respite on his western border.

By the end of 1735, Nāder felt that he had gained enough prestige through a series of victories and had secured the immediate military situation well enough to assume the throne himself. In Feburary 1736, he gathered the nomadic and sedentary leaders of the Safavid realm at a vast encampment on the Moḡān steppe. He asked the assembly to choose either him or one of the Safavids to rule the country. When Nāder heard that the molla-bāši (chief cleric) Mirzā Abu’l-Ḥasan had remarked that “everyone is for the Safavid dynasty,” he was said to have had that cleric arrested and strangled the next day (Lockhart, p. 99). After several days of meetings, the assembly proclaimed Nāder as the legitimate monarch.

The newly appointed shah gave a speech to acknowledge the approval of those in attendance. He announced that, upon his accession to the throne, his subjects would abandon certain religious practices that had been introduced by Shah Esmāʿil I (r. 1501-24) and had plunged Iran into disorder, such as sabb (ritual cursing of the first three caliphs Abu Bakr, ʿOmar, and ʿOṯmān, termed “rightly guided” by the Sunnites) and rafż (denial of their right to rule the Muslim community). Nāder decreed that Twelver Shiʿism would become known as the Jaʿfari madòhab (legal school) in honor of the sixth Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (d. 765), who would be recognized as its central authority. Nāder asked that this madòhab be treated exactly like the four traditionally recognized legal schools of Sunnite Islam. All those present at Moḡān were required to sign a document indicating their agreement with Nāder’s ideas.

Flintlock muskets were introduced into Iran during the Afšārid period. Iranian-built flintlock musket of the Afsharid- Qajar type [A] and the barrel of an Iranian flintlock shaped like a dragon’s head with two red stones serving as the “eyes” of that dragon! [B] (Picture Source: Khorasani, Maouchehr, Mosthagh (2009), Pistols and Gun Accessories in iran. Classic Arms and Militaria, pp. 23-24).

Just before his actual coronation ceremony on 8 March 1736, Nāder specified five conditions for peace with the Ottoman empire (Astarābādi, p. 286),most of which he continued to seek over the next ten years. They were: (1) recognition of the Jaʿfari maḏhab as the fifth orthodox legal school of Sunnite Islam; (2) designation of an official place (rokn) for a Jaʿfari imam in the courtyard of the Kaʿba [Perry, 1993, p. 854 and “Kaʿba,” in EI2 IV, p. 318 vs. Lockhart, p. 101] analogous to those of the Sunnite legal schools; (3) appointment of a Persian pilgrimage leader (amir al-ḥajj); (4) exchange of permanent ambassadors between Nāder and the Ottoman sultan; and (5) exchange of prisoners of war and prohibition of their sale or purchase. In return, the new shah promised to prohibit Shiʿite practices objectionable to the Ottoman Sunnites

Nāder tried to redefine religious and political legitimacy in Persia at symbolic and substantive levels. One of his first acts as shah was to introduce a four-peaked hat (implicitly honoring the first four “rightly-guided” Sunni caliphs), which became known as the kolāh-e Nāderi (EIr. X, p. 797, pl. CXIII), to replace the Qezelbāš turban cap (Qezelbāš tāj; EIr. X, p. 788, pl. C), which was pieced with twelve gores (evocative of the twelve Shiʿite Imams) Soon after his coronation, he sent an embassy to the Ottomans (Maḥmud I, r. 1730-54) carrying letters in which he explained his concept of the “Jaʿfari maḏhab” and recalled the common Turkmen origins of himself and the Ottomans as a basis for developing closer ties.

During this negotiation and subsequent ones, the Ottomans rejected all proposals related to Nāder’s Jaʿfari maḏhab concept but ultimately agreed to Nāder’s demands concerning recognition of a Persian amir al-ḥajj, exchange of ambassadors, and that of prisoners of war. These demands paralleled the provisions of a long series of Ottoman-Safavid agreements, especially an accord, drawn up in 1727 but never signed, between the Ottoman sultan and Ašraf, the Ḡilzay Afghan ruler of Persia (r. 1725-29). At the end of the 1148/1736 negotiations, both sides approved a document that mentioned only the issues of the ḥajj pilgrimage caravan, ambassadors, and prisoners because of disagreement over the Jaʿfari maḏhab concept. Although no actual peace treaty was signed at that time, mutual acceptance of these other points became the basis for a working truce that lasted several years.

Nāder departed substantially from Safavid precedent by redefining Shiʿism as the Jaʿfari maḏhab of Sunni Islam and promoting the common Turkmen descent of the contemporary Muslim rulers as a basis for international relations. Safavid legitimacy depended on the dynasty’s close connection to Twelver Shiʿism as an autonomous, self-contained tradition of Islamic jurisprudence as well as the Safavids’ alleged descent from the seventh Imam Musā al-Kāżem (died between 779 and 804). Nāder’s view of Twelver Shiʿism as a mere school of law within the greater Muslim community (umma)glossed over the entire complex structure of Shiʿite legal institutions, because his main goal was to limit the potential of Sunnite-Shiʿite conflict to interfere with his empire-building dreams. The Jaʿfari maḏhab proposal also seems intended as tool to smooth relations between the Sunni and Shiʿite components of his own army. In addition, the proposal had economic implications, since control of a ḥajj caravan would have provided the shah with access to the revenue of the lucrative pilgrimage trade.

The military camp of Nader Shah. A detailed diagram of Nader Shah’s military camp by Bazin, The camp market can be seen at the bottom, the Divankhaneh (grand audience hall) tent in the center and the circular harem tent at the top. The 12-striped banner can be seen to the lower left (Picture Source:  Matofi, A. (1999). Tarikh e Chahar Hezar Saleye Artesh e Iran: Jeld e Dovoom [The Four Thousand Year History of the Iranian Army: Volume Two], Tehran: Iman Publications, p.834).

Nāder’s focus on common Turkmen descent likewise was designed to establish a broad political framework that could tie him, more closely than his Safavid predecessors, to both Ottomans and Mughals. When describing Nāder’s coronation, Astarābādi called the assembly on the Moḡān steppe a quriltāy, evoking the practice of Mughal and Timurid conclaves that periodically met to select new khans. In various official documents, Nāder recalled how he, Ottomans, Uzbeks, and Mughals shared a common Turkmen heritage. This concept for him resembled, in broad terms, the origin myths of 15th century Anatolian Turkmen dynasties. However, since he also addressed the Mughal emperor as a “Turkmen” ruler, Nāder implicitly extended the word “Turkmen” to refer, not only to progeny of the twenty-four Ḡozz tribes, but to Timur’s descendants as well.

Nāder’s novel concepts regarding the Jaʿfari maḏhab and common “Turkmen” descent were directed primarily at the Ottomans and Mughals. He may have perceived a need to unite disparate components of the omma against the expanding power of Europe at that time, however different his view of Muslim unity was from later concepts of it. But both ideas had less domestic importance. On coins and seals, and in documents issued to his subjects, Nāder was more conservative in his claim to legitimacy. For example, the distich on one of his official seals focused only on the restoration of stability: Besmellāh – nagin-e dawlat-e din rafta bud čun az jā / be-nām-e Nāder Irān qarār dād Ḵodā (In the name of God – when the seal of state and religion had disappeared from Iran / God established there order in the name of Nāder; Rabino, p. 52). In a proclamation sent to the ulamaof Isfahan soon after the coronation, the Jaʿfari maḏhab was depicted as nothing more than an attempt to keep peace between Sunnites and Shiʿites. The document explained that ʿAli would continue to be venerated as one especially beloved by God, although henceforth the Shiʿite formula ʿAli wali Allāh (ʿAli is the deputy of God) would be prohibited. In contrast to the shah’s letters to foreign rulers, this proclamation did not even mention the Safavids (Qoddusi, p. 540).

Nāder’s domestic policies introduced major economic, military, and social changes. He ordered a cadastral survey in order to produce the land registers known as raqabat-e Nāderi. Because of the establishment of the Jaʿfari maḏhab, the Safavid framework of pious foundations was suspended (Lambton, p. 131), although their revenues were the main source of financial support for important ulama. Only in the last year of his reign did Nāder decree the resumption of pious foundations. After his accession to the throne, Nāder claimed the ruler’s privilege to issue coinage in his name. His monetary policy linked the Persian currency system to the Mughal system, since he discontinued the Safavid silver ʿAbbāsi and minted a silver Nāderi whose weight standard corresponded with the Mughal rupee (Rabino, p. 52; see COINS AND COINAGE, in EIr. VI, p. 35). Nāder also attempted to promote fixed salaries for his soldiers and officials instead of revenues derived from land tenure. Continuing a shift that had begun in the late Safavid era, he increased substantially the number of soldiers directly under his command, while units under the command of provincial and tribal leaders became less important. Finally, he continued and expanded the Safavid policy of a forced resettlement of tribal groups (Perry, 1975, pp. 208-10).

Nader Shah defeating Ashraf the Afghan as seen in the Jahangoshay-e Naderi. Note that the Afghan attacks are repelled by a disciplined row of Iranian artillery. The Afghans soon tried to copy Nader Shah’s tactics but this failed to save them from complete defeat in Iran. Note that the infantry stand behind the cannon, ready to deploy when Nader gives the order. There is a space after the first two cannon (from the bottom of the picture) where Nader’s cavalry stand ready for the counterattack. The cavalryman to the front is depicted with mail, Kolah-Khud  helmet and the Shamshir sword (Picture Source, Farrokh, Kaveh, Iran at War: 1500-1988, Osprey Publishing, p. 86).

All these reforms can be viewed as attempts to address weaknesses that had emerged in the late Safavid era, but none solved the problems that were tied to larger trends in the world economy. Iran had suffered from a swift rise in the popularity of Indian silk in Europe during the last few decades of Safavid rule, a shift that dramatically reduced Iran’s foreign income and indirectly contributed to the draining of bullion away from Persian state treasuries (Matthee, pp. 13, 67-68, 203-06, 212-218). This crisis, in turn, put more pressure on the provinces to produce tax revenue, which led provincial governors to take oppressive measures and fueled the Afghan revolt that had resulted in the Safavid collapse in the first place.

After his ascension to the throne Nāder’s main military task was the ultimate defeat of the remaining Afghan forces that had ended Safavid rule. After laying siege to Qandahar for almost a year, Nāder destroyed it in 1738—the last redoubt of the Ḡilzi, who were led by Shah Ḥosayn Solṭān, the brother of Shah Maḥmud, who had been the first Ḡilzay to rule Persia (1722-1725). On the site of his camp Nāder built a new city, Nāderābād, to which he transferred Qandahar’s population and Abdāli Afghans.

The destruction of Qandahar completed the reconquest of territory lost since the reign of Shah Solṭān Ḥosayn. Nāder’s career now entered a new phase: the invasion of foreign territory to pursue dreams of a world empire that could resemble the domains of Chinghis Khan (d. 1227, see ČENGIZ) and Timur. After the fall of Qandahar, many Afghans joined his army. His pursuit of Afghans who had fled across the Mughal frontier grew into an invasion of India when Nāder accused the Mughals of providing them with shelter and aid. Nāder had appointed Reżā-qoli as his deputy in Iran. While his father was away, Reżā-qoli feared a pro-Safavid revolt and had Moḥammad Ḥasan (the leader of the Qajars between 1726 and 1759) execute Ṭahmāsb and his sons.

After a successful offensive that culminated in the final defeat of the Mughal forces at the battle of Karnāl near Delhi in February 1739, Nāder made the Mughal emperor Moḥammad Šāh (r. 1719-48) his vassal and divested him of a large part of his fabulous riches, including the Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Noor (q.v.) diamond. When the rumor spread that Nāder had been assassinated, the Indians attacked and killed his troops. In retaliation, Nāder gave his soldiers permission to plunder Delhi and massacre its inhabitants. The peace treaty restored control of India to Moḥammad Šāh under Nāder’s distant suzerainty; it proclaimed M oḥammad Šāh’s legitimacy, citing the Turkmen lineage that he shared with Nāder (Astarābādi, p. 327). Nāder arranged a ceremony in which he placed the crown back on Moḥammad Shah’s head. To further emphasize Moḥammad Šāh’s subordinate status, he assumed the title šāhānšāh. To further strengthen his ties to the Mughals, Nāder married his son Naṣr-Allāh to a great granddaughter of the Mughal emperor Awrangzēb (r. 1658-1707). His chroniclers represent his victory over Moḥammad Šāh as another sign of his similarity to Timur. The shah himself was so obsessed with emulating Timur that he moved, for a time, to Mashad (Lockhart, pp. 188-89, note 4).

Painting of the Battle of Karnal made by Mosavar ol-Mamalek [Click to enlarge] (Picture Source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971, p.228).

While Nāder was invading India, Reżā-qoli was securing more territory for Nāder north of Balḵ and south of the Oxus river. His campaign aroused the ire of Ilbars, the khan of Khwarazm (see CHORASMIA, in EIr. V, p. 517), and of Abu’l-Fayż (r. 1711-47), the Toqay-Timurid khan of Bukhara (see BUKHARA, in EIr. IV, p. 518). When they threatened counterattacks, Nāder engaged in a swift campaign against them on his way back from India. He executed Ilbars and replaced him with a more compliant ruler, but this new vassal would soon be overthrown. Abu’l–Fayż, like the Mughal emperor, accepted his status as Nāder’s subordinate and married his daughter to Nāder’s nephew.

After the campaigns in India and Turkestan, particularly with acquisition of the Mughal treasury, Nāder found himself suddenly wealthy. He issued a decree canceling all taxes in Iran for three years and decided to press forward on several projects, such as creation of a new navy. Nāder had sent his naval commanders at various times on expeditions in the Persian Gulf, particularly to Oman, but these missions were unsuccessful, in part because it was difficult to secure naval vessels of good quality and in adequate numbers. In the summer of 1741, Nāder began to build ships in Bušehr, arranging for lumber to be carried there from Māzāndarān at great trouble and expense. The project was not completed, but by 1745 he had amassed a fleet of about thirty ships purchased in India (Lockhart, p. 221, n. 3).

However, Nāder experienced several major setbacks after his return to Iran. In 1741-43 he launched a series of quixotic attacks in the Caucasus against the Dāḡestānis (see DĀḠESTĀN, in EIr. VI, p. 570-71) in retaliation for his brother’s death. In 1741, an attempt was made on Nāder’s life near Darband. When the would-be assassin claimed that he had been recruited by Reżā-qoli, the shah had his son blinded in retaliation, an act for which he later felt great remorse. Marvi reported that Nāder began to manifest signs of physical deterioration and mental instability. Finally, the shah was forced to reinstate taxes due to insufficient funds, and the heavy levies sparked numerous rebellions.

In spite of mounting problems, in 1741 Nāder sent an embassy to the Ottomans to resubmit his 1736 proposal for a peace treaty. But Maḥmud I had just won wars against Russia and Austria and was not receptive. The sultan rejected the shah’s claim to Iraq (a claim based on Timur’s earlier control of the province). Then the Ottomanlegal authority, the šayḵ al-Eslām, issued a fatwā (legal opinion) formally declaring the Jaʿfari maḏhab heretical. In response, Nāder besieged several cities in Iraq in 1743, with no results, and in December of that year he signed a ceasefire with Aḥmad Pāšā, the Ottoman governor of Baghdad (d. 1747; cf. EI2 I, p. 291). Subsequently, Nāder convened a meeting of ulama from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia in Najaf at the shrine of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (d. 661, q.v.), the fourth of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the first Imam. After several days of lively debate on the question of the Jaʿfari maḏhab, the participants signed a document which recognized the Jaʿfari maḏhab as a legitimate legal school of Sunnite Islam. The Ottoman sultan, however, remained unimpressed by this outcome.

Nāder soon had to leave Iraq to suppress several domestic rebellions. The most serious of these began near Shiraz in January 1744 and was led by Moḥammad Taqi Khan Širāzi, the commander of Fārs province and one of Nāder’s favorites. In June 1744, Nāder sacked Shiraz, and by winter he had crushed these revolts. He resumed his war against the Ottomans and defeated them in August 1745 at Baḡāvard near Yerevan. Although Nāder’s victory led to new negotiations, his bargaining position was not strong because of new, large-scale domestic uprisings. The shah dropped his demands for territory and for recognition of the Jaʿfari maḏhab, and the final agreement was based only on the long mutually acceptable positions regarding frontiers, protection of pilgrims, treatment of prisoners, and exchange of ambassadors (Lockhart, p. 255). The agreement recognized the shared Turkmen lineage and ostensibly proclaimed the conversion of Iran to Sunnism. Yet the necessity to guarantee the safety of pilgrims to the Shiʿite shrines (ʿatabāt-e ʿāliya) in Iraq reveals the formal character of this concession. The treaty was signed in September 1746 in Kordān, northwest of Tehran. It made possible the official Ottoman recognition of Nāder’s rule, and the sultan dispatched an embassy with a huge assortment of gifts in the spring of 1747, although the shah did not live to receive it.

One of Nader Shah’s musketeers armed also with Shamshir sword and Khanjar dagger. Note the powder flask (Picture Source: Booklet of 2,500 Year Celebrations in 1971).

Nāder had spent the winter and spring of 1746 in Mashad, where he formulated a strategy to suppress the plethora of internal revolts. He also oversaw the construction of a treasure house for his Indian booty at nearby Kalāt-e Nāderi (see EI2 V, p. 103). The building complex that Nāder constructed within this natural mountain fortress, near his birthplace in northern Khorasan, became his designated retreat, and he created there a secure showplace for his accomplishments. Nāder followed the nomadic custom of not staying long in any permanent capital city, and Kalāt and Mashad (in, as he saw it. a complementary relationship) served as his main official sites in ways that resembled capital cities of other nomadic empires. Under Nāder’s patronage, Mashad flourished at the midpoint of a trading route between India and Russia and grew in importance as a major pilgrimage center with its Emam Reẓā shrine complex.

In June 1747, a cabal of Afšār and Qajar officers succeeded in killing Nāder. The succession struggle embroiled Persia in civil war for the next five years. Two months before the assassination, Nāder’s nephew ʿAli-qoli, son of his brother Ebrāhim (d. 1738), had risen in revolt, and in July he followed his uncle on the throne as ʿĀdel Shah (r. 1747-48). Nāder’s grandson Šāhroḵ, although blinded after an earlier coup attempt, finally secured the throne in Khorasan in 1748 as a vassal of the Afghan Aḥmad Shah Dorrāni (r. 1747-73, q.v.). This former deputy of Nāder founded the Dorrāni dynasty and is credited with being the first ruler of an independent Afghan state. Šāhroḵ ruled for almost fifty years until 1795, when Āqā Moḥammad Khan Qajar (r. 1779-97) deposed him, marking the end of the rule of the Afsharids (q.v.) in Iran.


The following list is a supplement to the extensive bibliography in John R. Perry, “Nādir Shāh Afshār,” in EI2 VII, 1993, p. 856, which itself is an addition to the bibliographies of Vladimir Minorsky (“Nādir Shāh,” in EI1 III, pp. 813-14) and Laurence Lockhart (Nadir Shah: A Critical Study Based Mainly Upon Contemporary Sources, London, 1938, pp. 314-28). It uses Perry’s categories for new materials, yet also includes already known works if cited in this article.

              Persian narrative sources.

Mirzā Mahdi Khan Astarābādi (q.v.; more correctly, Estrābādi), Tāriḵ-e jahāngošā-ye nāderi, ed. ʿA. Anvār, Tehran, 1962. Ḵᵛaja ʿAbd-al-Karim Kašmiri, Bayān-e wāqeʿ, ed. K. B. Nasim, Lahore, 1970.

Moḥammad Kāzem Marvi, Tārīḵ-e ʿālam-ārā-ye Nādirī, 3 vols., Tehran, 1364/1985-86.

Moḥammad Reżā Nāṣeri, ed., Asnād o mokātebāt-e tāriḵi-e Irān: I – Dawra-ye afšāriya, Tehran, 1985.

Moḥammad Šāfeʿ Wāred Tehrāni, Tāriḵ-e nāderšāhi, ed. Reżā Šaʿbāni, Tehran, 1990.

  Selected non-Persian sources and documents.

Erewants’i Abraham, History of the Wars: 1721-1738, tr. George A. Bournoutian, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1999.

Kretats’i Abraham, The Chronicle of Abraham of Crete, tr. George A. Bournoutian, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1999.

Riazul Islam, A Calendar of Documents on Indo-Persian Relations: 1500-1750, 2 vols., Tehran and Karachi, 1979-82, II, pp. 74-107.

Koca Rağib Mehmed Paşa, Tahkik ve tevfik: Osmanli-Iran diplomtik münasebetlerinde mezhep tartişmalari, ed. Ahmet Zeki Izgöer, Istanbul, 2003; in romanized Ottoman. ʿ

Abd al-Ḥosayn Navāʾi, ed., Nāder Shāh o bāzmāndagānaš: Hamrāh bā nāmahā-ye salṭanati o asnād-e siāsi o edāri, Tehran, 1989.

Moḥammad-Amin Riāḥi, ed., Safarāt-nāmahā-ye Irān: Gozarešhā-ye mosāfarat o maʾmuriyat-e sāferan-e ʿoṯmāni dar Irān, Tehran, 1989, pp. 205-42.

Studies not mentioned in other articles.

Chahryar Adle, “La Bataille de Mehmândust (1142 /1729),” Stud. Ir. 2, 1973, pp. 235-41.

Layla S. Diba, “Visual and Written Sources,” in Carol Bier,ed., Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart: Textile Art of Safavid and Qajar Iran 16th-19th Centuries, Washington, 1987, pp. 84-97.

Naimur Rahman Farooqi, Mughal-Ottoman Relations: A Study of Political and Diplomatic Relations between Mughal India and the Ottoman Empire 1556-1748, Delhi, 1989; originally, Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1986.

Willem Floor, Ḥokumat-e Nāder Shah: Be rewāyat-e manābeʿ-e holandi, tr. Abu’l-Qāsem Serri, Tehran, 1989.

Idem, “The Iranian Navy in the Gulf during the Eighteenth Century,” Iranian Studies 20, 1987, pp. 31-53.

Vladilen G. Gadzhiev, Razgrom Nadir-shakha v Dagestane (Nāder Shāh’s destruction in Daghestan), Makhachkala (Russian Federation), 1996.

Mohammad Ali Hekmat, Essai sur l’histoire des relations irano-ottomanes de 1722 à 1747, Paris, 1937.

Ann K. S. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia: A Study of Land Tenure and Land Revenue Administration, London, 1953, pp. 129-33, 164.

Rudolph P. Matthee, The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver 1600-1730, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 175-230.

John Perry, “Forced Migration in Iran during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” Iranian Studies 8, 1975, pp. 199-215.

Moḥammad Ḥosayn Qoddusi, Nāder-nāma, Tehran, 1960.

Hyacinth Louis Rabino di Borgomale, Coins, Medals and Seals of the Shâhs of Îrân, 1500-1941, London, 1945, pp. 51-56; repr., Dallas, 1973.

Reżā Šaʿbāni, Tāriḵ-e ejtemāʿi-ye Irān darʿaṣr-e afšāriya, 2nd. ed., Tehran, 1986.

Manṣur Sefatgol, “Baroftādan-e farmānravāʾi-e Afšāriān az Ḵorāsān va satizahā-ye pāyāni-e Afšāriān ba Qājāriān,” Farhang 9/3, Fall 1375/1996, pp. 293-338.

Ernest Tucker, “Explaining Nadir Shah: Kingship and Royal Legitimacy in Muhammad Kazim Marvi’s Tārīkh-i ʿālam-ārā-yi Nādirī,” Iranian Studies 26, 1993, pp. 95-117.

Idem, “Nadir Shah and the Jaʿfari Madhhab Reconsidered,” Iranian Studies 27, 1994, pp. 163-79. Idem, “The Peace Negotiations of 1736: A Conceptual Turning Point in Ottoman-Persian Relations,” Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 20/1, 1996, pp. 16-37.

History Channel program on Achaemenids translated to Persian-مستند آغاز یک امپراطوری – هخامنشیان


The History Channel program (see English version further below) on the Achaemenid Empire of ancient Iran has been translated to Persian:


مستند آغاز یک امپراطوری – هخامنشیان

The History Channel program which first aired in December 2006, provides a historical overview and the engineering feats of the Achaemenid Empire of ancient Iran.  The program features Dr.s David Stronach (Professor of Near Eastern Studies Near Eastern Archaeology, University of California, Berkeley), Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh). Patrick Hunt (Stanford University), Abbas Alizadeh (Senior Research Associate, Iranian Prehistoric Project at the Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago), and Kaveh Farrokh. The program is hosted by Peter Weller.


History Channel series Engineering an Empire – The Persians (Dec 2006) in English

Part 1: Medes, Persians, Cyrus the Great


Part 2: Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae, Persian gardens, Darius the Great


Part 3: Darius the Great and Marathon, digging canal between the Red Sea and  Mediterranean Sea, building bridge over Bosphorus

Part 4: Xerxes and war at Thermopylae

Part 5: Artaxerxes, building Mausoleum, Darius III, Alexander invasion