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The Afsharid dynasty (Persian: افشاریان‎) was an Iranian dynasty that originated from the Turkoman[5][6] Afshar tribe in Iran's north-eastern province of Khorasan, ruling Iran (Persia) in the mid-eighteenth century. The dynasty was founded in 1736 by the brilliant military[7] commander Nader Shah, who deposed the last member of the Safavid dynasty and proclaimed himself as the Shah of Iran.

During Nader's reign, Iran reached its greatest extent since the Sasanian Empire. At its height it controlled modern-day Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan Republic, parts of the North Caucasus (Dagestan), Afghanistan, Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, and parts of Iraq, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Oman. After his death, most of his empire was divided between the Zands, Durranis, Georgians, and the Caucasian khanates, while Afsharid rule was confined to a small local state in Khorasan. Finally, the Afsharid dynasty was overthrown by Mohammad Khan Qajar in 1796, who would establish a new native Iranian empire and restore Iranian suzerainty over several of the aforementioned regions.

The dynasty was named after the Turcoman Afshar tribe from Khorasan in north-east Iran, to which Nader belonged.[8] The Afshars had originally migrated from Turkestan to Azerbaijan (Iranian Azerbaijan) in the 13th century. In the early 17th century, Shah Abbas the Great moved many Afshars from Azerbaijan to Khorasan to defend the north-eastern borders of his state against the Uzbeks, after which the Afshars settled in those regions. Nader belonged to the Qereqlu branch of the Afshars.[9]

The Battle of Kars (1745) was the last major field battle Nader fought in his spectacular military career

Nader now decided to punish Daghestan for the death of his brother Ebrahim Qoli on a campaign a few years earlier. In 1741, while Nader was passing through the forest of Mazandaran on his way to fight the Daghestanis, an assassin took a shot at him but Nader was only lightly wounded. He began to suspect his son was behind the attempt and confined him to Tehran. Nader's increasing ill health made his temper ever worse. Perhaps it was his illness that made Nader lose the initiative in his war against the Lezgin tribes of Daghestan. Frustratingly for him, they resorted to guerrilla warfare and the Persians could make little headway against them.[35] Though Nader managed to take most of Dagestan during his campaign, the effective guerrilla warfare as deployed by the Lezgins, but also the AvarsNader now decided to punish Daghestan for the death of his brother Ebrahim Qoli on a campaign a few years earlier. In 1741, while Nader was passing through the forest of Mazandaran on his way to fight the Daghestanis, an assassin took a shot at him but Nader was only lightly wounded. He began to suspect his son was behind the attempt and confined him to Tehran. Nader's increasing ill health made his temper ever worse. Perhaps it was his illness that made Nader lose the initiative in his war against the Lezgin tribes of Daghestan. Frustratingly for him, they resorted to guerrilla warfare and the Persians could make little headway against them.[35] Though Nader managed to take most of Dagestan during his campaign, the effective guerrilla warfare as deployed by the Lezgins, but also the Avars and Laks made the Iranian re-conquest of this particular North Caucasian region this time a short lived one; several years later, Nader was forced to withdraw. During the same period, Nader accused his son of being behind the assassination attempt in Mazandaran. Reza angrily protested his innocence, but Nader had him blinded as punishment, although he immediately regretted it. Soon afterwards, Nader started executing the nobles who had witnessed his son's blinding. In his last years, Nader became increasingly paranoid, ordering the assassination of large numbers of suspected enemies.

With the wealth he gained, Nader started to build a Persian navy. With lumber from Mazandaran and Gilan, he built ships in Bushehr and order to build new artillery in Amol. He also purchased thirty ships in India.[19] He recaptured the island of Bahrain from the Arabs. In 1743, he conquered Oman and its main capital Muscat. In 1743, Nader started another war against the Ottoma

With the wealth he gained, Nader started to build a Persian navy. With lumber from Mazandaran and Gilan, he built ships in Bushehr and order to build new artillery in Amol. He also purchased thirty ships in India.[19] He recaptured the island of Bahrain from the Arabs. In 1743, he conquered Oman and its main capital Muscat. In 1743, Nader started another war against the Ottoman Empire. Despite having a huge army at his disposal, in this campaign Nader showed little of his former military brilliance. It ended in 1746 with the signing of a peace treaty, in which the Ottomans agreed to let Nader occupy Najaf.[36]

The military forces of the Afsharid dynasty of Persia had their origins in the relatively obscure yet bloody inter-factional violence in Khorasan during the collapse of the Safavid state. The small band of warriors under local warlord Nader Qoli of the Turkomen Afshar tribe in north-east Iran were no more than a few hundred men. Yet at the height of Nader's power as the king of kings, Shahanshah, he commanded an army of 375,000 fighting men which constituted the single most powerful military force of its time,[37][38] led by one of the most talented and successful military leaders of history.[39]

After the assassination of Nader Shah at the hands of a faction of his officers in 1747, Nader's powerful army fractured as the Afsharid state collapsed and the country plunged into decades of civil war. Although there were numerous Afsharid pretenders to the throne, (amongst many other), who attempted to regain control of the entire country, Persia remained a fractured political entity in turmoil until the campaigns of Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar toward the very end of the eighteenth century reunified the nation.

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After the assassination of Nader Shah at the hands of a faction of his officers in 1747, Nader's powerful army fractured as the Afsharid state collapsed and the country plunged into decades of civil war. Although there were numerous Afsharid pretenders to the throne, (amongst many other), who attempted to regain control of the entire country, Persia remained a fractured political entity in turmoil until the campaigns of Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar toward the very end of the eighteenth century reunified the nation.

After Nader's death in 1747, his nephew Ali Qoli (who may have been involved in the assassination plot) seized the throne and proclaimed himself Adil Shah ("The Just King"). He ordered the execution of all Nader's sons and grandsons, with the exception of the 13-year-old Shahrokh, the son of Reza Qoli.[41] Meanwhile, Nadir's former treasurer, Ahmad Shah Abdali, had declared his independence by founding the Durrani Empire. In the process, the eastern territories were lost and in the following decades became part of Afghanistan, the successor-state to the Durrani Empire. The northern territories, Iran's most integral regions, had a different fate. Erekle II and Teimuraz II, who, in 1744, had been made the kings of Kakheti and Kartli respectively by Nader himself for their loyal service,[42] capitalized on the eruption of instability and declared de facto independence. Erekle II assumed control over Kartli after Teimuraz II's death, thus unifying the two as the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, becoming the first Georgian ruler in three centuries to preside over a politically unified eastern Georgia,[43] and due to the frantic turn of events in mainland Iran he would be able to remain de facto autonomous through the Zand period.[44] Under the successive Qajar dynasty, Iran managed to restore Iranian suzerainty over the Georgian regions, until they would be irrevocably lost in the course of the 19th century, to neighbouring Imperial Russia.[45] Many of the rest of the territories in the Caucasus, comprising modern-day Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Dagestan broke away into various khanates. Until the advent of the Zands and Qajars, its rulers had various forms of autonomy, but stayed vassals and subjects to the Iranian king.[46] Under the early Qajars, these territories in Transcaucasia and Dagestan would all be fully reincorporated into Iran, but eventually permanently lost as well (alongside Georgia), in the course of the 19th century to Imperial Russia through the two Russo-Persian Wars of the 19th century.[45]

Adil made the mistake of sending his brother Ebrahim to secure the capital Isfahan. Ebrahim decided to set himself up as a rival, defeated Adil in battle, blinded him and took the throne. Adil had reigned for less than a year. Meanwhile, a group of army officers freed Shahrokh from prison in Mashhad and proclaimed him shah in October 1748. Ebrahim was defeated and died in captivity in 1750 and Adil was also put to death at the request of Nader Shah's widow. Shahrokh was briefly deposed in favour of another puppet ruler Soleyman II but, although blinded, Shahrokh was restored to the throne by his supporters. He reigned in Mashhad and from the 1750s his territory was mostly confined to Khorasan. In 1796 Mohammad Khan Qajar, the founder of the Qajar dynasty, seized Mashhad and tortured Shahrokh to force him to reveal the whereabouts of Nader Shah's treasures. Shahrokh died of his injuries soon after and with him the Afsharid dynasty came to an end.[47][48] Shahrokh's descendants continue into the 21st century under the Afshar Naderi surname.

Religious policyEbrahim to secure the capital Isfahan. Ebrahim decided to set himself up as a rival, defeated Adil in battle, blinded him and took the throne. Adil had reigned for less than a year. Meanwhile, a group of army officers freed Shahrokh from prison in Mashhad and proclaimed him shah in October 1748. Ebrahim was defeated and died in captivity in 1750 and Adil was also put to death at the request of Nader Shah's widow. Shahrokh was briefly deposed in favour of another puppet ruler Soleyman II but, although blinded, Shahrokh was restored to the throne by his supporters. He reigned in Mashhad and from the 1750s his territory was mostly confined to Khorasan. In 1796 Mohammad Khan Qajar, the founder of the Qajar dynasty, seized Mashhad and tortured Shahrokh to force him to reveal the whereabouts of Nader Shah's treasures. Shahrokh died of his injuries soon after and with him the Afsharid dynasty came to an end.[47][48] Shahrokh's descendants continue into the 21st century under the Afshar Naderi surname.

The Safavids had introduced Shi'a Islam as the state religion of Iran. Nader was probably brought up as a Shi'a [49] but later espoused the Sunni[50] faith as he gained power and began to push into the Ottoman Empire. He believed that Safavid Shi'ism had intensified the conflict with the Sunni Ottoman Empire. His army was a mix of Shi'a and Sunni (with a notable minority of Christians) and included his own Qizilbash as well as Uzbeks, Afghans, Christian Georgians and Armenians,[51][52] and others. He wanted Persia to adopt a form of religion that would be more acceptable to Sunnis and suggested that Persia adopt a form of Shi'ism he called "Ja'fari", in honour of the sixth Shi'a imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. He banned certain Shi'a practices which were particularly offensive to Sunnis, such as the cursing of the first three caliphs. Personally, Nader is said to have been indifferent toward religion and the French Jesuit who served as his personal physician reported that it was difficult to know which religion he followed and that many who knew him best said that he had none.[47] Nader hoped that "Ja'farism" would be accepted as a fifth school (mazhab) of Sunni Islam and that the Ottomans would allow its adherents to go on the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, which was within their territory. In the subsequent peace negotiations, the Ottomans refused to acknowledge Ja'farism as a fifth mazhab but they did allow Persian pilgrims to go on the hajj. Nader was interested in gaining rights for Persians to go on the hajj in part because of revenues from the pilgrimage trade.[19] Nader's other primary aim in his religious reforms was to weaken the Safavids further since Shi'a Islam had always been a major element in support for the dynasty. He had the chief mullah of Persia strangled after he was heard expressing support for the Safavids. Among his reforms was the introduction of what came to be known as the kolah-e Naderi. This was a hat with four peaks which symbolised the first four caliphs.

List of Afsharid monarchs