Critical Examination of Filiz Çakır Phillip’s Assertions of Iranian Weapons (15th-19th Centuries)

The below article by Dr. Manoucher M. Khorasani was published in the Journal of Islamic Archaeology, Volume 4 (No.2), pp.261-266, 2017. The article provides a critical examination of Filiz Çakır Phillip’s assertions with respect to Iranian striking and thrusting weapons of the 15th to 19th centuries.


Iranische Hieb-, Stich- und Schutzwaffen des 15.–19. Jahrhunderts (Iranian striking and thrusting weapons and armor from the 15th–19th centuries) by Filiz Çakır Phillip. De Gruyter, 2016. 382pp. Hb. $140.00, ISBN-13: 978-3110318135.

Reviewed by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, M.Khorasani Consulting,

This book attempts to describe Iranian arms and armor from the 15–19th centuries by concentrating on a few collections of historical weapons from museums and private collections outside Iran. This is an odd approach since it neglects the royal collection of Iranian arms and armor, formerly the collection of Nassereldin Shah Qajar, now on display on three Iranian museums in Tehran, Shiraz and Bandar Anzali. Instead Çakır Phillip looks at a limited selection of arms and armor in the inventories of the following collections: a) Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin mostly based on private collec-tion of Friedrich Sarre (ca. 40 items); b) Deutsches Historisches Museum (Zeughaus), Berlin, and c) the Ottoman arsenal and the collections of Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi and Askeri Müze in Istanbul. Çakır Phillip opines that the collections of the two Turkish museums are among the world’s oldest and richest collections of Islamic weapons. She states that the Ottoman main arsenal stems from the 15th century and can be documented by historical documents. Another part of the collection comprises historical weapons which were obtained as war booty, among them there are Arabic, Mamluk, Iranian and Turkmen pieces. The book attempts to describe how Iranian weapons were constructed and worked. However, due to a lack of knowledge about the means of their production, some explanations are not accurate. Referring to Sasanid helmets, Çakır Phillip states that spangenhelm left the face of the wearer bare. Although some Sassanid helmets did leave the face exposed, there are also Sassanid helmets of spangenhelm construction with a face mask made of mail as also there are examples with an iron face mask.

Viking Helmet (Right; Picture Source: English Monarchs) and reconstruction of earlier Sassanian helmet at Taghe Bostan, Kermanshah, Iran (Left; Picture Source: Close up of Angus Mcbride painting of Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan, Wilcox, P. (1999). Rome’s Enemies: Parthians and Sasanid Persians. Osprey Publishing, p.47, Plate H1).

The author states that she did not take shields into consideration since they were only used defensively. However, Persian shields were used both defensively and offensively as in most systems of sword and shield combinations, where the shield is used both as an offensive and defensive weapon. In explaining the so-called Turban helmet or Turkmen helmet, Çakır Phillip claims that after the Mongol invasion and rule, weapons and armor were developed to have a higher functionality. This is a bold statement as weapons in the region before the Mongol invasion were already highly developed and there is no evidence that such an invasion led to a higher functionality, nor does Çakır Phillip provide any for her statement.

Although the term kolāhxud (Phillip’s spelling kulah khud) is a general term in Persian, Çakır Phillip uses the term to refer to a specific type of Persian helmet made with a round dome, a nasal and aventail of mail. She contrasts this to the shape of a turban helmet. An analysis of Persian manuscripts would have shown the author that the term kolāhkhud was not only used in the Qajar-period manuscripts such as Rostam al Tavārix justifying the use of the term for late Safavid period as a successor of the turban helmet, but it had been already in use in much earlier periods. Regarding the mail aventail of the kolāhxud, Çakır Phillip assumes that the mail rings are riveted and small “aus kleinen genieteten Stahlringen” and adds that the more complex one, the rings have “einen zusätzlichen Mittelsteg in jedem einzelnen Ring”, possibly she means that the rings are “theta-shaped (θ)” which is the technical term for this type of rings. Surprisingly, she claims that the poor aventails are of machine made wire and are products of the 20th century, possibly referring to butted mail. However, it should be noted that butted mail rings do not necessarily imply that a) they are from the 20th century as there are many dated and documented mail armors with butted rings dating from much earlier periods and b) butted mail rings do not mean necessarily that the armor was a show item. Japanese armor has arm protectors which were made of butted rings, which had been hardened to increase their strength.

Regarding feather holders, jā pari, Çakır Phillip states that the number feather holders on Iranian kolāhxud vary between two and three, of which she claims the variation with three feather holders is a fashion of the 18th century without providing any references. She also claims that the use of peacock feathers on the helmet is an Indian influence, since the Rajputs adored peacocks, ignoring that peacocks had always played an important role in Persian culture as well.

In the case of body armor, Çakır Phillip claims that the Central Asian warriors used two types of armor: “soft” armor and “hard” armor and adds that the soft armor was made of leather, raw silk and hemp whereas the hard armor was made of iron plates and mail armor. She also opines that using the combination of both, one could create scale and lamellar armor as well as brigandine. However, this explanation is very misleading. Calling leather armor soft is absolutely wrong. Lamellar or even laminar armor made of leather were multi-layered and hardened, fully capable of absorbing the shock of enemy’s weapons and even arrow shots. She also wrongly assumes that the term jošan (ğūšan) defines “plate and mail armor”. However, mail armor in Persian is called zereh. She simply quotes Zeller and Rohrer on this and says that mail armor is called ğūšan in Persian and zirh and sābiġa in Arabic. Cursory research in Persian manuscripts would have been enough to see this is a wrong assumption. The term zereh is already mentioned as early as the Šāhnāme and a number of other Persian manuscripts to refer to mail armor such as Tārix-e Beihaqi, ĀlamĀrāyeŠāh Tahmāsp, etc. Actually the origins of the term zereh go back to the Middle Persian term zrēh or zarēh see Kārnāme-ye Ardešir Bābakān.

Persian mail armor dated to 1816-1817, housed at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession Number: 36.25.57; Source: “greyloch” in Public Domain).

Çakır Phillip states that there were also mail armors made of solid rings and riveted rings put together alternately. She suggests that the solid rings were there to strengthen the mail armor against the thrusts of the enemy’s weapon. However, the major reason for alternating rows of solid with riveted rings was to make the production of mail easier and faster. Further, she repeats a misconception that mail armor was only designed to protect against cuts and a thrusting weapon could have separated the riveted rings. However, recent trials on mail armor with riveted rings worn over multi-layered gambeson show that piercing even a stationery target wearing such a combination is not easy, even less so against a moving target. Breaking a riveted ring using a weapon is difficult. This misconception about mail armor was prevalent among some early researchers. She also states that there were different types of mail armor, but the majority of them were worn over the head. However, the majority of Iranian mail armor had an opening in front which was held closed with hooks or buckles.

Further in her classification of Persian armor, Çakır Phillip identifies lamellar armor “Lamellenpanzer” and claims that it was also known as ğūšan (jošan). This is an incorrect statement as I have shown above (see zereh). Regarding jošan, she states that the lamellar armor was made of different lamellar plates made of leather, horn or metal, directly connected to each other and she claims that making lamellar armor was cheaper than the mail armor. This statement is not backed up and we know today through experimentation that making good lamellar armor is just as time-consuming and expensive as making mail armor. Çakır Phillip states that during the Il-Khanid period, lamellar armor was the standard armor. However, during that period lami-nated banded armor was more widespread than lamellar armor. We should note that the term jošan can be found in many Persian manuscripts. However, different Persian manuscripts provide different explanations for this type of armor and it is not clear what kind of armor the term jošan actually describes. According to the Digital Lexicon of Dehkhoda, jŏšan is a type of mail-and-plate armor and is similar to tanure since both are made from mail and iron plates; however, the iron plates (qeibe) of a jŏšan are smaller than those used in the tanure.

Illustration by Trent Fehr of how lamellar armor is laced together (Source: Public Domain).

In her next classification of armor, Çakır Phillip puts three types of armor in one category “Schuppenpanzer, Lamellenpanzer und Brigantine” (scale armor, lamellar armor and brigandine).. She defines scale armor as made of different plates sewn to a leather or fabric shirt vertically. She describes this type of armor as bagtar. Pos-sibly she made a mistake in mentioning lamellar armor in this category again as she does not specify it here. Instead, she describes brigandine as kažāġand and says that it was mentioned by al-Tarsūsi. Surprisingly, although Çakır Phillip provides the explanation by Usamah Ibn-Munquidh on the nature of kažāġand (who describes it as a mail shirt with integral padding and an exterior cover). Nicolle rightly explains that jazerant or jazrain stems from the Persian word kazaqand and means a mail shirt (haubergeon) with integral padding plus a fabric-covered exterior. Although, the Dig-ital Lexicon of Dehkhoda explains qazāgand as a padding worn under the armor, this explanation cannot be right and as qazāgand is armor in its own right. It consists of mail armor sandwiched between two layers of light padding. Usamah Ibn-Munquidh describes a particularly heavy version made with two layers of mail. In Europe, this armor was called a jazerant and Blair suggested that the word is a derivative of qazāgand. In the Farhang-e Nafisi, Nafisi provides two meanings for qazāgand: a) a cloth that is filled with wool and silk and worn in the battle and b) a type of mail armor. In contrast to the explanation of Çakır Phillip, qazāgand cannot be compared to a European brigandine, which is a body armor made of a fabric garment, which is generally canvas or leather, lined with small oblong steel plates riveted to inside.

Çakır Phillip distinguishes another type of armor which she describes as “mail armor combined with plate armor” (Kettenpanzer mit Plattenpanzer kombiniert). She differentiates between two types: a) The first type comprises rectangular plates protecting the belly, sides and back leaving the shoulders to be protected by mail armor. She says that this type can be described as either jŏšan (ğūšan) or zirh-i čūgāl but rejects the use of both terms as she says that they are general terms. She stresses that in Turkish čūgāl is a general term signifying any type of armor be it mail armor or plate armor for humans or animals, but fails to realize that jŏšan actually is used to describe this type of armor in Persian manuscripts. Çakır Phillip describes the second type as a type of armor which has two round plates one in front and one in the back combined with mail and other plates. Possibly she is referring to the Ottoman krug armor.

The next armor type identified by Çakır Phillip is čāhrāyne (čahārāyina). She rightly identifies different parts of a čāhrāyne as the front plate “sineband “ (sīnaband), the back plate “poštband “ (puštband) and the side plates “baqalband “ (baġalband).

In the chapter on cut and thrust weapons (Hieb- und Stichwaffen), Çakır Phillip claims that swords and sabers remained the most important weapons until the introduction of firearms due to their cutting and thrusting capabilities. However, in Persian armies similar to other armies, bows, lances and spears played the primary role and swords played a secondary role. This was due to different factors: a) spears and lances and of course bows had a wider range, b) it was easier to teach inexperienced troops how to wield a spear rather than a sword and c) it was cheaper to produce a spears compared to forging a sword. Further, Çakır Phillip claims that akenakes was the sword of Persian, however, its shape is not clear. This is not correct as much research has been done on the Persian and Median akenakes. Surprisingly, Çakır Phillip claims that Latin translations from Medieval era associate the term with simiterra (scimitar) and adds that in the 3th century the straight sword of the Greeks found its way among the Sassanids! This is incorrect as the predecessors of Sassanids, the Parthians, already used double-edged long straight swords and Achaemenid short sword akenakes was also a short straight sword.

Late Sassanian sword (Farrokh 2004; reprinted Hughes 2010, p.51). Entire sword from front [1] and back [2]; sword handle at front [3] and back [4]; sword mount at front [5] and back [6].

Regarding different types of Oriental sabers, Çakır Phillip distinguishes between three types: the Ottoman kılıç , Persian šamšr and Indian talwar. Two questions arise here: a) First, why does Çakır Phillip mention kiliç and talwar in a book dedicated to the study of Iranian arms and armor? and b) she still wrongly believes that Persian šamšr denotes a classical type of Persian saber with a high curve and wedged-cross-sectioned blade known in the West under this term. This, however, was a Western misconception widespread among collectors of arms and armor for several years. Unfortunately, Çakır Phillip repeats the same misconception in 2016. Prior to the Arab Conquest of Iran and the introduction of Islam in 631 A.D., all swords used in Iran were straight-bladed. This indicates that the preceding Persian dynasties, the Achaemenians, Parthians, and Sassanians all used swords with straight blades. Although the term šamšir was used in English and other European languages to refer to the classical Persian šamšir with its high degree of curvature, it refers to any type of sword, regardless of its shape, in the Persian language. The origin of this term can be seen in the Middle Persian Pahlavi, in which it was called šamšēr, šafšēr and šufšēr.

Further, Çakır Phillip assumes that the highly curved šamšir was used as a symbol of ruler’s legitimacy. She claims that this type of saber replaced all other types of early sabers and swords and that there was a revival of using earlier forms only in the 19th century. However, straight swords had always been produced next to the highly curved swords so it was not a revival. She assumes the Indian talwar had a ricasso contrary to Iranian šamšir and that only Indian talwars were also decorated with chiseling and enameling next to gold-inlaying and -overlaying. However, there are Indian talwar blades without a ricasso and there are Iranian šamšir decorated with chiseling and even enamelling. Suprisingly, Çakır Phillip claims that the late renditions of zulfiqar were completely useless in fighting. This is an unsupportable generalization, when applied to all blades of this type. There are examples made of very sharp crucible steel blades, which cut very well.

A 19th century curved sword from Iran (Source: M. Khorasani Consulting). It was acquired in 1931 and was formerly held in the collection of Count Sergey Sheremekev’s collection.

The present work was published in 2016 but it does not take into consideration that by 2010, many Persian manuscripts on crucible steel production and sword classification were introduced and analyzed in the books Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology and the very fact that the book was a doctorate thesis submitted to the Department of Humantities and Culture (Fachbereich Geschichts und Kulturwissenschaften) of the Freien Universität Berlin in 2011, it is not clear why the author decided to rely this part of her thesis solely on older publications which are prevalent in many collectors’ books on historical arms and armor.

In the abovementioned book, the following Persian manuscripts on steel production and sword classification are mentioned: Nŏruznāme [The Book of Nŏruz] attributed to Omar ibn Ebrāhim Khayyām-e Neyšāburi, Javāhernāme-ye Nezāmi [Nezāmi’s Book of Precious Stones] by Mohammad ibn Abi al-Barakāt Jŏhari Nezāmi, Bayān al-Sanā’āt[Description of Crafts] by Hobeyš ibn Ebrāhim ibn Mohammad Taflisi, Ādāb al-Harb va al-Šojā-e [Customs of War and Bravery] by Mohammad ibn Mansur ibn Said Mobārak Šāh Fakhr-e Modabbar, Tansukhnāme [The Book of Minerals] by Khāje Nasireldin Tusi, Arāyes al-Javāher by Abolqāsem Kāši, Gŏharnāme [The Book of Jewels] written by Mohammad ibn Mansur, and Ta’id Besārat [Aid to Sight] by Mirzā Lotfallāh. Instead of mentioning the Persian manuscripts on steel production and sword classification, Çakır Phillip relies entirely on two early manuscripts on steel production and swords written in Arabic, one by the Arab scholar al-Kindi, On Swords and their Kinds, and the other written by the Iranian scholar Abu Reihān Beiruni titled Al-Jamāhir fi Marefat al-Jawāher [The Sum of Knowledge about Precious Stones].

Çakır Phillip spells pulād-e gohardār as pūlād-i ğūhārdār or fūlād-i ğūhārdār and pro-vides the translation “glänzender, wohltemperierter Stahl” (shining, well tempered steel). However, the real spelling in Persian is gohar and not ğūhār. The true transla-tion of is “bejeweled steel” as gohar means “jewel” in Persian and in figurative sense it can be translated as “watered steel”. She claims that for the production of crucible steel in Iran, wootz steel from Sri Lanka was imported. However, there are accounts that Iranian smiths bought crucible steel cakes and bars imported from India (see Biswas and Floor), local steel, Khorasan damask and Qazwin damask, was also made and brought to Isfahan. Recently, archaeological evidence on the existence of cru-cible steel production in Iran has also been found (see Emami and Karamad).

Relying solely on western publications, Çakır Phillip distinguishes between the following patterns of Persian crucible steel: striped damask (sham), water damask, wavy damask, network damask (divided in two types of karakhorasan and karatābān) and ladder damask. A cursory study of Persian texts of the Qajar period would have revealed to the author the real spelling of some of these terms: Çakır Phillip spells “black Khorasan” pattern as karakhorasani actually qaraxorāsāni; “black taban” as karatābān actually either taban or qarataban. Later she has the “ladder pattern” as kirkmerdiven instead of qerq nardebān. Further research in Iranian manuscripts on crucible steel production would have revealed that they describe a variety of cru-cible steel patterns (e.g. the Nŏruznāme [Book of Nowruz] which differentiates the following patterns: kalāqi, crow-like; gŏhar-e hamvār, even pattern; etc.).

The merit of the book is that it emphasizes the importance of Persian culture and its influence on other neighboring cultures. In this respect, Çakır Phillip explains that the Abbasid scholars derived new impulses from the Sassanid culture as the Iranian legacy was especially strong in Baghdad.

First Balloon Flight over Tehran

After the invention of the balloon and its first recorded flight on November 21, 1783, this early flight technology was to appear in Iran 108 years later in 1891 (Babaie, Gh. [1385/2006], “History of the Iranian Air Force”, page 18), towards the end of the reign of Qajar monarch, Nasser-e-din Shah (1848-1896). Other popular sources place the date of this balloon flight a number of years earlier at 1877.

A photo of Nasser-e-din Shah (r. 1848-1896) taken in c.1895 (Photo: Tarikhirani). He was to be the longest reigning Qajar king.

As noted by Babaie, a French aviation enthusiast arrived in Iran to demonstrate the balloon in flight. Local citizens in Tehran and Tabriz and a number of other cities in Iran were indeed to witness the balloon in flight for the first time. Interestingly, a short poem was soon composed by local citizens in Tehran and Tabriz in reference to the balloon’s appearance over the skies of Iran:

شاپو بر سر فرنگی به هوا رفت    توی بالن نشست نزد خدا رفت

(A westerner/European [translation of “Faranagi”] with a chapeau [French/European hat] went to the air – [He] sat in the balloon and went to God)

Local citizens gather around a French balloon about to lift off in Tehran. This is the earliest known photograph of the first balloon flight in Iran which according to Iranian historiography occurred in 1891 with other sources claiming the year of 1877 (Photo: Pinterest).

While aloft, the balloon was to often appear to ground observers as an elephant in flight! Apparently the shape and color of the balloon in combination with the reflection of sun rays upon its surface made this appear as if there was an elephant being suspended in mid-air! The memory of this balloon flight has thus become embedded in the collective memory of the Iranian populace to this day with the following expression:

فیل هوا کرده
([he/she] has put an elephant in the air)

Many modern-day Iranians however remain unaware of the origins of this expression. Instead, citizens often use this expression in reference to one who intends to (or is attempting to) achieve incredible (or impossible) feats.

The first aerial photo of Tehran was taken by another balloon approximately in (c.)1909 during the reign of the last Qajar monarch, Ahmad Shah (r. 1909-1925):

The first aerial photo taken of Tehran by a balloon approximately 90 years ago (Photo: Bartarinha). Note the contrast with modern-day Tehran – the skies are clear, and there are also no pollutants or skyscrapers.

Academic Publishing House (Qoqnoos) Translates Iran at War into Persian

Kaveh Farrokh’s third textbook, Iran at War: 1500-1988 (Osprey Publishing, 2011) has been translated into Persian by one of the most prestigious academic Persian-language publishing houses, known as Qoqnoos Publishers (انتشارات ققنوس). The translation (ایران در جنگ) has been conducted by Maryam Saremi. Qoqnoos has translated into Persian academic textbooks by scholars such as David Nicolle, Josef Wiesehofer, Duncan head, Touraj Atabaki, Nino Piglokevskaya, Sandra Mackey, Touraj Daryaee, Mohammed Dandamaev, Agrar Aliev, Christopher Foster, and Mary Boyce.

Cover pages of Iran at War (1500-1988) (Left) and the 2018 translation “ایران در جنگ” by Maryam Saremi of Qoqnoos publishers (Right). Iran at War is Farrokh’s third textbook on the military history of Iran. The total number of translations of Farrokh’s first three books are now seven (discussed further below). To date (Fall of 2018), Farrokh has published and co-authored eight textbooks on the Military History of Iran (three have been published in 2018).

The publishing of the Persian translation of “ایران در جنگ” (Iran at War) has been announced by major Persian-language news outlets such as:

Cover jacket of Iran at War: 1500-1988. [CLICK TO ENLARGE] A photo taken in 1926 of a military assembly in Tehran. The troops are about to pose for a military review. Note  diverse nature of Iranian troops (Kurds, Azeris, Lurs, Baluchis, Qashqais, Persians), reminiscent of the armies of Iran since antiquity.  Colonel Haji Khan Pirbastami at far left (with hand resting on sword – more on him further below) and unknown officer to the right are members of the Gendarmerie para-military forces.

Farrokh’s original 2011 English language text was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal in 2011 (link now broken but excerpts available here, and announced by the University of British Columbia on Twitter):

Kaveh Farrokh is an expert on Persian languages and Iranian history whose new book, Iran at War: 1500-1988, provides a full examination of modern Iranian military history… His previous title Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War (Osprey, 2007) was named “Best History Book” by the World Academy of Arts Literature and Media in 2008. Dr. Patrick Hunt at Stanford University, said this about it,  ”… a book for all who have ever been curious about the ‘other’ view on Persia, not from the Western standpoint rooted in Greece, but from the traditions of the Persians themselves… Meticulously researched and documented….

Shah Ismail as depicted by a European painter – the painting is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Italy. Note the Latin terms “Rex Persareum” [Monarch of Persia] which makes clear that Shah Ismail was the king of Safavid Persia or Iran. Despite being hopelessly outmatched by the Ottoman armies in manpower and firearms, Ismail stood his ground in Chaldiran on August 23, 1514. Despite their victory, the Ottoman Turks, who had also suffered heavy losses,  failed to conquer Iran.

The Iran-based Library, Museum and Center of Manuscripts (May 20, 2012) (ارایه کتاب «ایران در جنگ: ۱۹۸۸-۱۵۰۰» در کتابخانه مجلس-(۳۱ اردیبهشت ۱۳۹۱ provided a review of the original 2011 English language text (see excerpts below):

فرخ با تحلیل جنگ های مذهبی و غیرمذهبی رخ داده در این مدت به ما نشان می دهد که چگونه ایران از همه طرف (شرق، غرب، جنوب) و در دوره های مختلفی مورد هجوم همسایه هایش قرار گرفته است… تحلیل های فرخ از انقلاب اسلامی و جنگ ایران و عراق، اطلاعاتی در مورد پیشینه نظامی ایران در اختیار ما می گذارد که تا به حال مطرح نشده است.-

“Farrokh has analyzed the religious and non-religious wars and has demonstrated how Iran has been attacked by its neighbors from all sides (east, west and south) over several periods…Farrokh’s analyses of the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war provides us information that has hitherto remained unmentioned…”

A painting of the Battle of Karnal (February 22, 1739) made by Mosavar ol-Mamalek.The battle ended in an overwhelming victory for Nader Shah (see his statue in the inset photo). The Iranians then occupied Delhi and captured India’s royal jewels. Some Indian historians (i.e. Sarkar) have argued that India was severely weakened by Nader Shah; this allowed the British Empire to easily spread its dominance over the entire Indian subcontinent just decades after the battle of Karnal (picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971, p.228).

The Business Daily Report of Egypt published a review in September 2011 by Robert Terpstra of the original 2011 English language text (see excerpts below):

Documenting nearly five centuries of history is no small feat, and Kaveh Farrokh does it well in Iran at War: 1500–1988. … detailed account of key figures and dates on history’s battlegrounds. What is refreshing, however, is that the book discusses the Islamic Republic of Iran without painstakingly rehashing the Islamic Revolution, which appears in just about every book on the country.
The strongest chapter … dealing with the Iran-Iraq war … not much is known about the Iran-Iraq war. Farrokh helped change that … What is telling, and what the author illustrates as an important part of his research, is the detailing of the territorial boundaries of the state — in 1772 stretching from Ghazni in modern day eastern Afghanistan west to Diyarbakir in modern day Kurdistan or Turkey proper. The empire reached as far north as the North Caucasus as well as encapsulating both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present-day Iraq.Several maps throughout the book illustrate the growth and significant receding landmass of Iran. Presently, more than 200 years after the 18th century Afghan invasions, Iran still presents itself as an imposing state and a necessary inclusion in all conversations in negotiating mention of the volatile Middle East. The book is a must for the progression of modern day and historical Iranian scholasticism. At 480 pages, absorbing the book over time is best — a book that’s content contains such detail demands and deserves it.

Some scenes from the Iran-Iraq war (1980-198): [1] Demoralized Iraqi army tank crew surrenders during the Iranian liberation of Khorranshahr in May 1982 (Picture Source: Military Photos) [2] Ex-Iraqi BMP armored personnel carriers being used by the Iranians against their former owners (Picture Source: Shahed) [3] A captured Iraqi French-made ROLAND low-altitude anti-aircraft missile system at Fao in February 1986 (Picture source: Military Photos) [4] Iranian troops transport captured Iraqi SAM missiles in the aftermath of the expulsion of occupying Iraqi forces from Khuzestan in May-June 1982 (Picture source: Military Photos).

The Small Wars Journal published a review in July 2012 by Youssef Aboul-Enein (Adjunct Islamic Studies Chair at Dwight D.Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy [formerly ICAF]) of the original 2011 English language text (see excerpts below):

As the United States and the international community faces Iran over a variety of contentious issues from the acquisition of militarized nuclear capabilities to support for the Syrian regime, as well as Hizbullah in Lebanon it becomes necessary for members of the United States Armed Forces and our partners to immerse themselves on book about Iran. Dr. Kaveh Farrokh … has published a timely volume immersing readers in five centuries of how Persians have waged and conducted war. The book delves deeply into the history and psychology of warfare and provides a grounding of how Iranians see threats and challenges today.

Modern-day Lur rifleman of the type that formed the backbone of the armies of Karim Khan Zand (1705-1779) (Picture source: courtesy of Mehdi Dehghan). At bottom is an Iranian gun with a British percussion cap mechanism fitted to the barrel from the Zand era (Picture source: Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani (2009), Persian Firearms part Three: The percussion Cap Lock. Classic Arms and Militaria, pp.22-27).

Note that Qoqnoos had already translated into Persian another of Kaveh Farrokh’s books, “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War” (2007), in 2011 (translator: Maryam Saremi). There are two other translations of “Shadows in the Desert”:

In addition, Kaveh Farrokh’s first book, Elite Sassanian cavalry (2005, Osprey Publishing) has been translated thrice the following:

Undated photo of Colonel Haji Khan Pirbastami before his final mission to fight the Bolsheviks invading northern Iran in c.1926-1927. Haji Khan believed in the concept of fighting alongside the troops he commanded. Fate finally caught up with him as he was engaged in close quarters fighting against the Bolsheviks. As he was locked in hand to hand combat, one of the Bolsheviks shot him at close quarters. Although Haji Khan did survive the battlefield, he had to be bought back from the north to Tehran for medical treatment. Haji Khan reached the capital city but it was already too late: he finally succumbed to his wounds shortly thereafter. 

Seb castle in Southeast Iran

The province of Sistan-Baluchestan Province (Sistan is the northern part with Baluchestan the southern portion) is one of Iran’s driest regions.  The province’s coastal areas are distinctly humid with some increase in rainfall coming in from the east towards the west. This region is an ancient crossroads that has linked the civilizations the Indus Valley with those of West Asia.

Seb Castle (situated in a village also named “Seb“) was a key military stronghold during the Qajar dynasty (1789-1925), vital for observation of Iran’s southeast borderlands. The origins of the castle however may date back to the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736), or possibly earlier.

Seb Castle stands at a height of 23 meters, and is a key tourist attraction in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province (Source: Historical Iran).

Built of clay and mortar Seb castle is noticeably robust. It’s builders also used a local plant seed with adhesive qualities to further enhance its architectural resilience. In a sense, the builders had studied local foliage to see which of these would make the best (and long-lasting) cement.

Seb is believed to have been renovated (a minimum of) three times over time, alongside other intermittent additions to the structure (Source: Historical Iran).

Another unique architectural innovation used by the builders of Seb castle was the use of palm trees. Specifically, slabs of wood were cut according to architectural specifications to further strengthen the castle’s structure. The palm tree wood helps absorb  the local ground’s low-level seismic vibration activity. This has done much to prevent the structure from gradually deteriorating over time, and collapsing.

Seb’s primary structure stands on the top of a short rocky cliff (Source: Tehran Times). This freed the architects from having to construct a base-foundation for the castle. 

Despite its relatively small size, Seb Castle by the Qajar era had become a strategic location and was used as a base to help govern towns such as Paskooh, Gasht, Zaboli and Soran. The castle for example, had been used as base for Qajar armies in 1878 to maintain the central government’s authority in the region.

A View of the interior of Seb castle (Source: Historical Iran). Seb Castle’s rectangular base measures at 36 x 25 meters.

The Anglo-Iranian War of 1856-1857

The article below by J. Calmard “The Anglo-Persian War of 1856-1857” was first published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1985 and last updated on August 5, 2011. This article is also available in print in the Encyclopedia Iranica (Vol. II, Fasc. 1, pp. 65-68).

Kindly note that the photos/illustrations and accompanying captions inserted below do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article.


Following their defeat in the Russo-Persian wars of 1219-28/1804-13 and 1242-44/1826-28, the Qajars, tried to compensate for their losses by reasserting Persia’s control over western Afghanistan. Attempts to bring the principality of Herat under their rule in 1249/1833, 1253-55/1837-39, and 1268/1852 were strongly resisted by the British: If Herat were in Persian hands, the Russians—whose influence was paramount at the Persian court—would directly threaten India. In Afghanistan, Persian ambitions complicated internal struggles for the control of the “Khanates” of Kabul, Qandahār, and Herat. Since the 1820s, Kabul, and then Qandahār, had been ruled by the Bārakzī or Moḥammadzī, while Herat was held by the Sadōzī. In 1258/1842 Kāmrān Sadōzay was murdered by his vizier, Yār Moḥammad Khan. When the latter died in 1851, his son and successor, Ṣayd Moḥammad Khan, asked Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah Qāǰār for assistance against the Bārakzay amirs, in Kabul, and Kohandel Khan in Qandahār. In spite of warnings from the British minister in Tehran, Colonel Sheil, the Persians moved into Herat the next spring, but faced with British threats to break diplomatic relations and reoccupy Ḵārg island, the shah withdrew his troops (G. H. Hunt, Outram and Havelock’s Persian Campaign, London, 1858, pp. 149f.; P. P. Bushev, Gerat i anglo-iranskaya voĭna, Moscow, 1959, pp. 43f.), agreeing not to send them to Herat again unless it was threatened from the east and not to interfere in Herat’s internal affairs (engagement of 15 Rabīʿ II 1269/25 January 1853: see parts regarding ḵoṭba and coinage in C. U. Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Other Sanads Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries, Delhi, 1933, XIII, no. XVII, pp. 77f.; see also Hunt, Outram, pp. 155f.; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 44f.).

1-Sir Charles Augustus MurrayThe bumbling diplomat? An 1851 photo of a seated Charles Augustus Murray (1806-1895) prior to his diplomatic mission to Iran (Source: Public Domain). As soon as he arrived as British ambassador to Tehran in 1854, it became clear that he and Nasseredin Shah (r. 1848-1896), monarch of Qajar Iran, disliked each other. Murray’s inept diplomacy helped contribute to the rupture of Anglo-Iranian relations.

In 1853, Sheil was succeeded in Tehran by Charles Augustus Murray, who had no Indian experience and has been strongly criticized by both contemporaries and historians (e.g., Sir D. Wright, The English amongst the Persians, repr. London, 1977, p. 23); his troubles in Tehran were among the causes of the Anglo-Persian war. Before his arrival the shah knew him to be on friendly terms with his old enemies, the rulers of Egypt and Masqat, while an article published in the London Times predicted that he would soon force the shah to accept British policy regarding Herat. Moreover, he came “with neither an expected loan nor a draft defensive treaty nor presents,” to the disappointment of the court (ibid.). His lack of experience in Eastern diplomacy had disastrous results. Soon after his arrival, he became embroiled in a dispute with the ṣadr-e aʿẓam over the appointment of a former government official to the British Mission in Shiraz; the confrontation escalated to the point where the official’s wife, the sister of one of the shah’s wives, was imprisoned, and both Murray and his senior assistant were accused of improprieties with her. In a rescript to his ṣadr-e aʿẓam, Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī, (later annexed to the Treaty of Paris of 1857), the shah called Murray stupid, ignorant, and insane (ibid., p. 24); copies of the document were then sent to the foreign missions in Tehran, who were also informed by the ṣadr-e aʿẓam of the alleged offense. Murray was authorized by his government to break off relations with Persia; mediations by the Ottoman chargé d’affaires and the French minister were of no avail (Hunt, Outram, pp. 160f.; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 55f.). On 20 November 1855, Murray struck down his flag; he left Tehran for Tabrīz on 5 December and moved to Baghdad in May. The British consul, R. W. Stevens, remained in Tehran, where he was the only link with the Foreign Office and the India Board till September, 1856.

In Afghanistan, Persia’s threatening attitude caused Dōst Moḥammad to conclude a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship with Britain (30 March 1855; see Aitchison, A Collection, pp. 237f.). The ruler of Herat, Ṣayd Moḥammad, was deposed and killed, and in September-October, 1855, Moḥammad Yūsof Sadōzay, who was regarded as a Persian nominee, seized power there (Ḥ. Sarābī, Maḵzan al-waqāyeʿ, ed. K. Eṣfahānīān and Q. Rowšanī, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, introd., p. 23). Despite the engagement signed by the shah in 1853, a Persian army soon marched toward Herat. Afraid of being crushed between the shah and Dōst Moḥammad, who had taken Qandahār in August, Moḥammad Yūsof tried to temporize, but Ḥosam-al-salṭana Solṭān Morād Mīrzā, commander of the Persian force, was ordered to push forward with all speed. In desperation, Moḥammad Yūsof hoisted the British flag at Herat, only to be treacherously seized and sent as a prisoner to the Persian camp by his vizier, ʿĪsā Khan (M. J. Ḵormūǰī, Ḥāqāʾeq al-aḵbār-e Nāṣerī, ed. H. Ḵadīvǰam, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, pp. 176f.). The Persians began to capture forts and other sites around Herat as far as Farāh, but Persian troops who managed to invade Herat with the complicity of local Shiʿites were driven out by a bloody uprising (ibid., pp. 181f.). In renewed fighting ʿĪsā Khan hoisted the British flag and even offered Herat to the British crown in return for aid (J. F. Standish, “The Persian War of 1856-1857,” Middle Eastern Studies 3, 1966, pp. 28-29). Under threats from the shah, Solṭān Morād increased his pressure against Herat, which fell to the Persians at the end of October, 1856.

2-Citadel of Herat 1880sThe citadel of Herat in 1885 (Source:

In the meantime, the diplomatic scene had changed since the end of the Crimean War in April, 1856: Russia could consider further progress toward India, and France was no longer Britain’s ally (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 30). In Istanbul, the Persian chargé d’affaires tried to settle diplomatic difficulties by negotiations with the British minister Lord Stratford de Redcliffe (interviews of January and April, 1856; see Hunt, Outram, pp. 167, 178-79). In July, the shah sent Farroḵ Khan Amīn-al-molk (later Amīn-al-dawla) Ḡaffārī on an extraordinary embassy to Paris. Meeting in Istanbul with Lord Stratford de Redcliffe at a time when the British were preparing a military action against Persia (Sarābī, Maḵzan, introd., pp. 34f., text, pp. 117f.), Farroḵ Khan was presented with an ultimatum insisting on the dismissal of the ṣadr-e aʿẓam; finally, he accepted the terms of another, more conciliatory, ultimatum sent by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to the Persian chargé d’affaires during the summer (Hunt, Outram, pp. 181-84, 189). With British authority divided between Britain and India and contradictory advice being given by men in the field (Stevens in Tehran, Edwardes in Peshawar), the Indian government was confused (Standish, “The Persian War,” pp. 26-27, 31-33). From Baghdad, Murray continued to send Foreign Secretary Clarendon proposals for a punitive expedition against Persia, yet overtures made to secure Dōst Moḥammad’s cooperation (Treaty of 26 January 1857 in Aitchison, A Collection, pp. 238f.) were of no avail (Sir P. Sykes, A History of Persia, 3rd ed., 1915, repr. London, 1969, II, p. 349). In both Persia and India, first-rank officials were opposed to war (Sarābī, Maḵzan, introd., p. 30; H. C. Wylly, “Our War with Persia in 1856-57,” United Service Magazine, London, March 1912, pp. 642f.).

After the capture of Herat, British agents were expelled from or left Persia; the last to go was Felix Jones, the political resident at Bushire, who left in November, 1856, only four days before the arrival there of three English warships (Fasāʾī, I, p. 313). To avoid public outcry against Palmerston’s government, the British declared war from Calcutta, on 1 Novernber 1856 (Wright, The English, p. 56). After considering direct action on Herat through Afghanistan or from Bandar ʿAbbās, they decided to operate in the Persian Gulf (Sykes, History II, pp. 349f.). A naval expedition under the command of Major-General Stalker occupied Ḵārg island on 4 December; on 10 December Bushire surrendered and was placed under British administration (Fasāʾī, pp. 313f.). On 27 January 1857, Sir James Outram landed at Bushire and took command.

Anglo-Persian War-KhorramshahrCaptured territory in the Khorramshahr area on the mouth of the Persian Gulf in 1857; note British flag (Source: Antiqua Print Gallery).

On the Persian side, ǰehād was proclaimed and changes made in the army leadership, but the Bushire campaign was ill prepared. Taking the initiative, Outram marched on the main body of Persian troops encamped at Borāzǰān, about 100 km northeast of Bushire. The British column occupied Borāzǰān on 5 February, bur the Persian army had already retreated to the north, leaving behind equipment and weapons. After destroying the Persian arsenal, the British marched back to Bushire but were met with a combined attack from the Persian regulars and the Qašqāʾī cavalry on the night of 7 February. At dawn, the British cavalry and artillery look the offensive and inflicted a massive defeat on the Persians (who lost 700 men to 16 on the British side; see Outram’s report in The Annual Register, 1857, p. 444; Sir J. Outram, Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram’s Persian Campaign in 1857, London, 1860, pp. 33-35; Wylly, “Our War,” p. 648; different figures given by Fasāʾī, I, p. 317; A. D. Hytier, ed., Les dépêches diplomatiques du Comte de Gobineau en Perse, Paris and Geneva, 1959, p.71, n. 95, et al.).

Despite Ottoman objections, the next operation was directed against Moḥammera (later Ḵorramšahr), which had been made over to Persia by the Treaty of Erzurum in 1847 and strongly fortified later on. In a purely naval battle fought on 26 March, Outram and Henry Havelock (who had arrived in reinforcement with his division) pounded the shore batteries with mortars. After some two hours’ fire, the shore batteries were silenced; troops were landed “only to find that the Persian force had fled, after exploding their chief magazine, but leaving everything behind them” (Wylly, “Our War,” p. 650; see also C. D. Barker, Letters from Persia and India 1857-1859, London, 1915, pp. 26f.). An armed flotilla sent up the Kārūn river reached Ahvāz on 1 April and returned to Moḥammera two days later. Military action at Moḥammera ended on 5 April when news was received that peace had been signed on 4 March.

Qajar Zanbourak unitA case of obsolescence: a Qajar Zanbourak (small cannon fitted on camel) military unit (Source: Iran’s military state by the 1850s was one of poor leadership, disorganization, low morale, poor training and substandard military equipment.

In fact, the Persian government had sued for peace directly after the capture of Bushire. Through the mediation of Napoleon III and his foreign minister, Count Walewski, Farroḵ Khan managed to start negotiations with Lord Cowley, British minister in Paris. This led to the signature of the Treaty of Paris on 4 March 1857, with ratifications exchanged at Baghdad on 2 May 1857. Persia was obliged to relinquish all claims over Herat and Afghanistan, while Britain was to serve as arbiter in any disputes between Persia and the Afghan states (article 6). British consular authorities, subjects, commerce, and trade were to be treated on a “most favored nation” basis (article 9). In a separate note to the treaty, the terms of Murray’s return to Tehran were set out in “humiliating detail” (Wright, The English, p. 24). Otherwise, no guarantees, no indemnities, and no concessions were exacted; there was no demand for the ṣadr-e aʿẓam’s dismissal (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 39), and the shah’s note of December 1855 insulting Murray was even annexed (see Aitchison, A Collection XIII, no. XVIII, pp. 81-86).

Although he was received in Tehran in July, 1857, with the agreed ceremonial, Murray was not to see the end of his troubles till the fall of the ṣadr-e aʿẓam Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī (20 Moḥarram 1275/30 August 1859). Count de Gobineau, the French chargé d’affaires in Tehran, who had taken charge of British interests, complained bitterly about the problems caused by the British protégés (Gobineau, Les dépêches, pp. 32f.). Murray complained in turn abort the lack of support these got from the French Legation (ibid., p. 93, n. 136 and Murray’s dispatches in FO/60/230 and 231). Both in 1855 and 1857, Murray complained about the eviction of the British Legation from the seats of honor it had formerly occupied on official ceremonies, including taʿzīa (passion play) performances (see J. Calmard, “Le mécénat des représentations de taʿziye, II,” Le Monde iranien et l’Islam 4, Paris, 1976-77, pp. 157f., and Moḥarram Ceremonies and Diplomacy, in Qajar Iran, Edinburgh, 1983, pp. 213-28. But the main troubles arose from the necessity of enforcing the terms of the treaty. Although the last British troops were not withdrawn from Ḵārg island till the spring of 1274/1858, the main body had left the Persian Gulf for India at the outbreak of the mutiny (May-June, 1857; see Outram, Persian Campaign, pp. 321f.). In Herat, the Persians were slow in evacuating the area of Lāš-Jovayn (see Murray’s dispatches in FO/60/230); there were problems connected with minorities (e.g., Herat Jews imprisoned at Mašhad) and the settling of the reciprocal atrocities and exactions between Sunnites and Shiʿites which had taken place during the war (on Colonel R. L. Taylor’s mission to Herat see FO/60/218, 219, 220; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 155f.).

Battle of KhosabThe Battle of Khushab (February 8, 1857) as depicted on a British postcard which reads “Lieutenants Malcolmson and Moore at Khushab” (Source: The postcard is making specific reference to Captain J.G. Malcolmson, and Lieutenant A.T. Moore who ere awarded Victoria Crosses by the British Empire for their battlefield exploits during the Anglo-Iranian War. The British and Iranian sides were evenly matched in numbers (4600 British versus 5000 Iranians) at Khoshab, but the British held the technical edge in terms of military equipment, a factor which significantly contributed to their victory at Khushab in Iran’s Bushehr province.

In Herat, ʿĪsā Khan had been put to death on 6 Rabīʿ II 1273/4 December 1856; Moḥammad Yūsof met a similar fate at the hands of Ṣayd Moḥammad’s relatives (Ḵormūǰī, Ḥaqāʾeq, pp. 191, 229f.; R. C. Watson, A History of Persia . . . to the Year 1858, London, 1866, pp. 463f.). Before they withdrew, the Persians installed Solṭān Aḥmad Khan, the nephew and son-in-law of Dōst Moḥammad, as Herat’s ruler. Effectively a vassal to the Persian crown (though this was never officially proclaimed), he enjoyed de facto British recognition as well. He was overthrown by Dōst Moḥammad in May, 1863; until then the Persian government managed to keep control over Herat while adhering to the Treaty of Paris (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 35).

The success of the British soldiers, more than a half of whom were Indian, was mainly due to technological superiority and new English rifles. Even so, British commanders faced the strain of barely sufficient means and lack of training. Three of them, Outram, Havelock, and John Jacob, were to become legendary Anglo-Indian figures, but the two service commanders committed suicide during the early stages of hostilities (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 35; see also Barker, Letters, pp. 23f.). Disorganization on the Persian side is illustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for the ǰehād against the British preached by the ʿolamāʾ and Mīrzā Āqā Khan (see H. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906, Berkeley, 1969, pp. 154f.). Connections between the Persian war and the Indian mutiny remain inconclusive (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 39). It should be also noted that repeated Persian claims of the necessity to pacify Khorasan from constant Turkman raids were considered by the British as a mere pretext for the seizure of Herat.

Early 19th century Map of IranMap of Iran in 1805 before her territorial losses in the Caucasus to Czarist Russia and the losses of Herat and Western Afghanistan due to British military actions. Just as the treaties of Golestan (1813) and Turkmenchai (1828) forced Iran to relinquish her territories in the Caucasus to Russia, so too did the Treaty of Paris (1857) force Iran to relinquish her territories in Afghanistan as per British objectives (Picture source: CAIS).

It has often been said that Britain’s relations with Persia improved after the war. Although from the British standpoint this may be partially true, there was a widespread tendency among the Persians to consider the British as the main source of their troubles, and Anglophobia was also felt elsewhere. Although allied with the British in the Crimean War (1854-56) and the second opium war in China (l856-61)), the French were alarmed by British expansionism in the Persian Gulf (E. Flandin, “La prise d’Hérat et 1’expédition anglaise dans le Golfe Persique,” Revue des deux mondes 7, 1857, pp. 690f.), and British diplomats also felt a lack of support from their colleagues in Iran. The Russians considered British action in Persia in this period as deliberate aggression, and concern over British expansionist plans was felt by Russian diplomats at all levels, as well as by local civil and military authorities in the Caucasus (Bushev, Gerat, pp. 23f.).

Cartoon of Persia 1911In a tight spot: British 1911 cartoon showing Iran (as the Persian cat) caught between the British lion and the Russian bear who sits on the (unfortunate) “Persian Cat” (Source: The Federalist). The social and geopolitical impact of Iran’s military defeats in the 19th century resonate to this day.


See also: 1. Unpublished official documents: Public Record Office (mainly FO/60 series); India Office Library and Records (mainly Factory Records for Persia and Board’s Drafts); National Record Office of Scotland (private papers of Hon. C. A. Murray, GD/261).

2. Published documents, other sources and studies: P. P. Bushev, “Angliĭskaya agressiya v Irane v 1855-1857,” Kratkie soobshcheniya Instituta vostokovedeniya, Akademiya nauk SSSR, Moscow, 8, 1953, pp. 21-26.

Idem, “Angliĭskaya voennaya ekspeditsiya v Akhvaz,” ibid., 29, 1956, pp. 65-71.

Correspondence Respecting Relations with Persia, London, 1857.

B. English, John Company’s Last War, London, 1971.

ʿA. Farrāšbandī, Ḥamāsa-ye marzdārān-e ǰonūbī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978.

Idem, Jang-e Engelīs o Īrān dar sāl-e 1273 h.q., Tehran, 1358 Š./1979.

Farroḵ Khan Amīn-al-dawla, Maǰmūʿa-ye asnād o madārek-e Farroḵ Ḵān Amīn-al-dawla, ed. K. Eṣfahānīān and Q. Rowšānī, I, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

A. Kasravī, “Jang-e Īrān o Engelīs dar Moḥammera,” Čand tārīḵa, Tehran, 1324 Š./1945, pp. 6-80.

Reżā-qolī Khan Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā-ye Nāṣerī X, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.

Moḥammad-Taqī Sepehr, Nāseḵ al-tawārīḵ, ed. J. Qāʾem-maqāmī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958, pp. 231f.

A. Ṭāherī, Tārīḵ-e rawābeṭ-e bāzargānī o sīāsī-e Īrān o Engelīs II, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.