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1736-1747 - Afsharid / Nader Shah

The series of the Shahs of Persia is composed of five distinct dynasties of different races: the Safavids, Afghans, Afsharids, Zands, and Kajars. Of these the first claimed Arab lineage, for the Safavids traced their descent from the seventh Imam Musa-Kazam. The Safavid dynasty practically ended when the Afghans under Mahmiid rose in revolt, seized Herat and Mashhad, defeated Shah Hosayn, and after a seven months' siege took the capital Ispahan in 1722 (1135). Members of the Safavid family, however, still retained a vestige of authority, chiefly in Mazandaran, and after ten years of anarchy, revolts, and Russian and Turkish invasions, Nadir Kull the Afsharid Turk, made use of the pretext of restoring the enfeebled Safavids, to seize the supreme power, to which he soon added the avowed as well as the real sovereignty in 1736 (1148).

Nadir Shah not only maintained the Persian kingdom in its fullest extent, but subdued Afghanistan, seized Kabul and Kandahar (1737), pushed on to Lahore, defeated the Mogul army after an obstinate battle near Karnal, and sacked Dehll in March 1738 (1151). Peace was made, and for a time the Persian empire extended from the Indus to the Caucasus. Nader Shah, an outstanding military commander and the builder of a huge empire, was killed in a conspiracy in June 1747.

The Afsharid dynasty, numbering four Shahs, ended in a period of anarchy, during which the Afghan Azad held Adharbljan; 'All Mardan the Bakhtiyari, Ispahan; Mohammad Hosayn, the chief of the Kajars, ruled Astarabad; and Karim Khan the Zand fought with Shah llukh the Afsharid for the supreme throne. The Zand eventually got the upper hand.

Born Nadir Kuly [Slave of the Wonderful] in the year 1688, the child's father earned his livelihood by making sheep-skin coats for the peasants, and Nadir was brought up as shepherd until the age of thirteen, when his father died. An ass and a camel were his only patrimony, and he kept his mother by gathering sticks in the woods and carrying them to market. In 1704 a marauding band of Uzbegs carried himself and his mother away into slavery. The latter died, but young Nadir escaped, after four years of servitude, and, having stolen a flock of sheep, fled into the mountains of Khurasan, and adopted the life of a robber. His reputation for daring and bravery soon spread over the country; and in 1714 he received the command of a large force, from the governor of his native province, with which he repulsed an invasion of the Uzbegs and Turkmans.

When Persia was groaning under the yoke of the conquering Afghans, and the rightful Shah was a fugitive in Mazanderan, the intrepid robber chief offered his services to his unfortunate sovereign : and, having murdered Fat-h 'Aly Khan, chief of the Kajars, and former commander, he became General of Tahmasp's army. Nadir now displayed extraordinary ability, and, as has been before related, in two years had conquered the Afghans in several hard-fought battles, thus completely ridding Persia from foreign invasion.

On 16 November 1729, the victorious Nadir entered Isfahan; and was soon followed by his master, the young Shah Tahmasp H., who burst into tears when he beheld the ruined and defaced walls of the palace of his ancestors. His mother, who had escaped the numerous massacres, by disguising herself as a slave, and performing the most degrading offices, now came forth, and threw herself into his arras. Nadir did not give his enemies time to recover from their defeat. He followed them up, and again utterly defeated them in January, 1730. Ashraf tried to escape to Kandahar almost alone, but was murdered by a party of Baluchi robbers ; and thus, by the genius of Nadir, his native land was delivered from the terrible Afghan invaders. The ambition of Nadir, however, was far greater than his loyalty. On the pretext of his incapacity, he dethroned Tahmasp II in 1732, and sent him a prisoner into Khurasan, where he was murdered, some years afterwards, by Nadir's son, while the conqueror was absent on his Indian expedition. For a short time the wily usurper placed Tahmasp's son on the throne, a little child, with the title of 'Abbas III, while he contented himself with the office of Eegent. Poor little 'Abbas died at a very convenient time, in the year 1736, and Nadir then threw off the mask. He was proclaimed Shah of Persia, by a vast assemblage, on the plain of Mogan.

Having defeated the Turks, and driven them out of Hamadan, Nadir turned an eye of longing cupidity on the rich, but now degenerate, Indian empire of the Great Mogul. The empire of the descendants of Baber in India, had risen to the height of its splendour during the reign of Aurungzib, who died in 1707 ; and, at the time of Nadir's rise, it was sunk to the lowest ebb of degradation. Muhammad Shah, the reigning Great Mogul, passed his time in sensual pleasures in the palace at Delhi, while the Mahrattas plundered his southern frontier, and the Sikhs and Eohillas assumed virtual independence in the north and west. One of the great 'Umaras or lords, who enjoyed the title of Nizamu-l-Mulk,' Kegulator of the State,' governed the important province of the Dekkan; while Devran Khan, the chief adviser of the Mogul, exposed his pusillanimous weakness by bribing the Mahrattas with large sums, to desist from their incursions.

Having captured Kandahar, Nadir invested the city of Kabul, which was bravely defended by a chief named Sherzih Khan. But his applications for aid were neglected by the Court of Delhi, and, after a month's siege, Kabul was taken by storm in June 1738. The Persian army then advanced through the narrow mountainous passes between Kabul and Peshslwur, and Nadir succeeded in bribing the warlike Afghan tribes to remain neutral. He thus conducted his forces in safety through those dangerous defiles, and captured Peshawur. Having surmounted this difficulty, the invader led his army across the Indus at Atak, by means of two iron chains, to which inflated skins were made fast, and covered with planks, thus forming a bridge of boats. Having crossed the Indus, Nadir Shah rested his army for a few days at Lahore, and then advanced towards the plain of Karnal. In 28 months he had marched more than 850 miles.

The vast assemblage of Indians, without discipline, valour, or unanimity, had little chance against the tried veterans of Nadir's army. The Indians, by the judicious arrangement of the Persian, were also attacked in flank, their brigade of elephants was routed by the clever contrivance of placing stages full of burning tow on the backs of camels, and a panic seized the army. The Emperor of India submitted to the terms of the rude conqueror, and in six days the disgraced monarch found himself a prisoner in his own capital. On the following day Nadir Shah made his entry into the city, where every house was closed, and proceeded straight to the palace. Here the Indian lords, with true oriental servility, vied with each other in obsequious flattery of their new master.

Nadir Shah ordered that in every street where the dead body of a Persian was found, no soul should remain alive. Neither age nor sex was spared, rivers of blood flowed through the streets, and every house from the palace to the hovel was filled with mourning. At length the wretched Emperor threw himself at Nadir's feet, and implored him to spare his people. The haughty conqueror answered that the Mogul's prayer was granted. He sheathed his sword, and the massacre ceased. It had lasted from 8 A.m. to 3 P.m., and not less than 120,000 souls, or, according to another account, 200,000, had perished ; while many women had suffered most infamous treatment before they were relieved by death.

Tahmasp Khan, the Persian Wazir, was commissioned to inspect the collection of the treasure to be extorted from the people and court of Delhi. The contributions were exacted from high and low, with the utmost rigour; no cruelties were left unpractised; and at length an enormous sum was amassed. The jewels taken from the Great Mogul himself and his nobles amounted to 42,500,000; the famous peacock throne being alone valued at 11,250,000. Gold and silver plate, melted into large ingots, came to 37,500,000; and other spoils, consisting of rich furniture, cannon, and warlike stores, brought the amount up to the prodigious sum of 87,500,000. Another account gives it at 70,000,000; and the lowest estimate is considerably above 30,000,000.

Before leaving Delhi, Nadir Shah replaced the crown on the head of the Great Mogul with his own hand, and gave him a long lecture on the government of India, concluding with these alarming words,'If necessary, I can be with you myself in forty days from Kandahar. Never reckon me far off.' On the 4th of May 1739, the conqueror mustered his army on the north side of Delhi, with a vast train of camels, horses and elephants, laden with the spoils, and the following day he commenced his march towards Persia.

But the robbery of the riches of Delhi proved a curse to him. From the time of his return he became suspicious, avaricious, and cruel. Numbers of innocent persons were almost daily put to death or horribly mutilated ; and his own son Bazha Kuly, who, it is true, had intended to assassinate his father, had his eyes put out. Nevertheless, this extraordinary man conceived many plans for the improvement of the country, and encouraged the enterprise of foreign merchants. He established his capital at Mash-had.

During the latter years of the reign of Nadir Shah, his tyranny and capricious cruelty became more and more insupportable. He ordered the beloved and time-honoured Shia'ah doctrine of the Persians to be changed for the Sunnah creed, and any disobedience was punished with cruel mutilation or death. At length the wicked tyrant filled up the sum of his crimes, and retribution overtook him in the midst of his terrible career.

In 1747, Nadir encamped on the plains of Sultan Maidan, about a day's journey north of Mash-had; where he meditated, with the assistance of his, Turkman and Uzbeg forces, the massacre of all the Persians whose fidelity he suspected. But the plot was overheard, and recoiled upon its author. At dead of night a Persian officer, named Saleh Beg, passed the guard, and, having discovered Nadir's tent, he cut him with a sabre while asleep. The tyrant sprang up, but, in retiring from the tent, he tripped over the cords, and Saleh gave him a mortal wound. ' Spare me,' cried he, 'and I will forgive you all.' The assassin answered, 'You have not shown any mercy, and therefore merit none.'

Thus fell this mighty conqueror. He was rude and illiterate, but possessed a magical influence over his soldiers, and an intuitive instinct which seemed to point out to him the exact moment for action. He was six feet high, with round shoulders, and large, expressive eyes, fixed under a broad expanse of forehead. His voice was like thunder, and a battle-axe was his favourite weapon.

Nadir's head was sent to his nephew, 'Aly Kuly, then commanding troops near Herat; but the courier lost it on the road, and, to screen his negligence, substituted that of some other man. The body was buried at Mash-had, under a small tomb, with a garden planted round it; but the founder of the present reigning dynasty of Persia, the Kajars, whose grandsire had been murdered by Nadir, desecrated the tomb, destroyed the garden, dug up the body, and, it is said, placed his bones under the steps of the throne at Tehran, that all who passed might trample on them. When Burnes was at Mash-had in 1832, a peasant had planted a crop of turnips over the grave.

On the death of Nadir his mighty empire fell to pieces, and anarchy prevailed over Persia. On the day after his assassination the Uzbegs and Afghans in his army fought a battle with the Persians; and, afterwards, Ahmed 'Abdallah, who commanded the Afghan contingent, rode home with a few thousand horsemen, and as many jewels as he could steal, (among which was the Kuh-i-Ndr), and founded the Durani empire.

On receiving tidings of his uncle's death, 'Aly Kuly ascended the vacant throne, and assumed the title of Adil Shah, or' the Just King.' He displayed his justice by murdering Eazha Kuly, Nadir's blind son, and thirteen of the sons and grandsons of the deceased conqueror; besides cruelly mutilating Agha Muhammad, the son of Muhammad Husain Khan, chief of the Kajars, who had been a prisoner in Nadir's camp for some years. After a reign of a few months, Adil Shah was defeated, taken prisoner, and blinded by his brother Ibrahim, governor of 'Irak, who proclaimed himself king ; but was, soon afterwards, made prisoner by his own troops, and killed at Mash-had, where Adil Shah was also put to death.

Shah Eokh, son of Razha Kuly, and grandson of Nadir Shah, then succeeded. He was a very young man, and his mother was a daughter of Shah Husain, the unfortunate Sufawi king. In 1748, a chief named Seyyid Muhammad, suddenly attacked him, before he could collect any troops, and, having got possession of his person, cruelly deprived him of sight. The adventurer, whose mother was a sister of Shah Husain, then proclaimed himself king with the name of Sulaiman; but Yusftf, Shah Bokh's general, defeated him, and the blind young prince was restored.

But the most important consequence of Nadir's death was the formation of a compact and powerful empire in Afghanistan. Afghanistan, that mountainous country between Persia and India, has, from time immemorial, been inhabited by a brave and independent race of men, who had ever scorned subjection to a foreign yoke, and lead, for the most part, roving, restless lives.

The conqueror Nadir Shah and his successors were followed by the Zand dynasty, founded by Karim Kahn, and later the Qajar (1795-1925) and the Pahlavi dynasties (1925-1979). A period of anarchy and a struggle for supremacy among Afshar, Qajar, Afghan, and Zand tribal chieftains followed Nader Shah's death. Finally Karim Khan Zand (1750-79) was able to defeat his rivals and to unify the country, except for Khorasan, under a loose form of central control. He refused to assume the title of shah, however, and ruled as vakil al ruaya, or deputy of the subjects. He is remembered for his mild and beneficent rule.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:45:32 ZULU