The names “Iran” and “Persia” are virtually synonymous. Iran is the name by which Iranians have always known their country. The name Persia, derived from the ancient Greek Persis, was used by outsiders until the twentieth century, when Reza Shah Pahlavi (1878-1944), the shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941, insisted that “Iran” should become the international usage.
The names “Iran” and “Persia” are virtually synonymous. Iran is the name by which Iranians have always known their country. The name Persia, derived from the ancient Greek Persis, was used by outsiders until the twentieth century, when Reza Shah
Before the development of mechanized transport, the Iranian plateau was a singularly forbidding land in which to campaign. Its vast extent and prevailing aridity, its alternating landscape of
From 1500 to 1722 Iran was ruled by the Safavid
Territorial integrity was restored by Nādir Shāh
Aghā Muḥammad Khān Qājār bequeathed his conquests to a nephew whose descendants, the Qājār
Throughout the nineteenth century, the government of Iran faced intense diplomatic pressure and threats to its national integrity from both Russia and Great Britain and confronted the challenges of Westernization and modernization. In 1906 popular protests against the ineptitude and corruption of the shah’s government and its subservience to foreign interests led to the promulgation of a constitution and the establishment of a rather dubious parliamentary regime. However, the Anglo-Russian
Reza Shah Pahlavi, who as a colonel modernized the Iranian army and in 1925 overthrew the Qajar Dynasty that had ruled Iran since the end of the eighteenth century.
The military history of the period from 1500 to 1922 falls into four broadly overlapping phases. First, under the rule of the
The dynamic ՙAbbās I the
In the second phase of Iran’s military history, from 1747 to 1797, Iran, exhausted by the loss of manpower and resources that was the price paid for Nādir Shāh’s glory, seemed to have turned in upon itself. The country was wholly preoccupied with intertribal conflicts, cause and effect of the general economic decline, and paid little attention to developments beyond its frontiers. The forces involved were much smaller than those of the recent past, were probably less well equipped, and maintained themselves by plunder. The genius of Aghā Muḥammad Khān Qājār in large measure reconstituted the Iranian monarchy as it had been under the Safavids.
During the third phase, which spanned the greater part of the nineteenth century, Iran was forced to confront the reality of the overwhelming military superiority of Europe, specifically, of Russia and Great Britain. Threatened by Russia in the northwest, ՙAbbās
Opinions varied considerably regarding the fighting capacity of the Nizam-i Jadid troops, and it was said that ՙAbbās Mīrzā’s rival for the throne, Muḥammād ՙAli Mīrzā, governor of Kermānshāh, had greater success against the Russians with his Kurdish tribal levies, armed and deployed as in the time of Aghā Muḥammād Khān. ՙAbbās Mīrzā encountered opposition not only from military conservatives but also from the Shiite clergy, who opposed innovations of all kinds as likely to lead to the introduction of further infidel ways. Enthusiasm for further military reforms diminished after the Second Russo-Iranian War
Nāṣīr al-Dīn Shāh’s first prime minister, Mīrzā Taqī Khān Amīr
The fourth phase, however, emerged after Nāṣīr al-Dīn Shāh’s European tour of 1878, during which he developed great enthusiasm for what he saw of the czar’s Cossack regiments. As a result, on his return to Tehran, an Iranian Cossack
The tribal levies that constituted the bulk of Safavid forces carried the weaponry traditionally associated with fighting men on the Iranian plateau: a compound horn bow with a quiverful of arrows, a long spear that could be used like a lance or thrown like a javelin, a scimitar
Over the course of the Safavid period, an increasing number of soldiers carried
Ṣafavid Iran in the Seventeenth Century
The military revival under Nādir Shāh seems to have owed nothing to improved weaponry or technological innovation. Nādir
The most significant development during the nineteenth century was the employment of European military advisers, who introduced the Iranian military to European uniforms, drill, discipline, and tactics. These advisers were attached to the forces of not only the shah but also his sons, who were themselves provincial governors and who sought to improve the quality of their provincial levies in anticipation of the inevitable fratricidal struggle for the throne, which would occur at the shah’s demise. Thus, Muḥammād ՙAli Mīrzā, governor of Kermānshāh, enlisted French officers to train his Kurdish levies. Such officers, Napoleonic veterans unemployed since Waterloo, were en route for the Punjab to seek service with the Sikhs.
European units generally trained with weapons of European origin, typically redundant muzzle-loaders known as the Brown
Throughout the Safavid period and down to the time of Aghā Muḥammād Khān Qājār, there was a minimum of military organization. In wartime, the shah summoned his vassal chieftains, who then, if they were so inclined, came to his summons with their followers, who thereafter continued to serve under their own hereditary leaders, who fought alongside those of the shah, or abandoned him, if self-interest required. For this reason ՙAbbās I the
The military weakness of the
Only a few of these units were significant. The irregular
The semi-irregular cavalry were equipped, drilled, and trained in European style and consisted of three regiments, two cantoned in Tehran and one in Eşfahān. The two regiments in Tehran formed the Cossack
There is no evidence of strategic thinking on the part of Iranian military leaders during the period from 1500 to 1922. Traditional tactics consisted of the cavalry charge en masse, performed with such great verve and dash that even better-disciplined opponents wavered and retreated. However, if the initial impetus of the massed charge failed to achieve its aim, Iranian cavalry quickly became demoralized and withdrew. At other times they practiced with great effect the ambuscade and the harrying of stragglers and supplies on the line of march. Over the vast expanse of the Iranian landscape, they were skilled at pursuing a “scorched-earth” policy against invading troops operating far from their bases, who were thereby deprived of the food and fodder that was normally obtained by living off the land. Both Ottomans and Russians found themselves hamstrung by such tactics, which were particularly skillfully employed by Aghā Muḥammād Khān Qājār.
During the nineteenth century Iranian officers, especially those stationed in Azerbaijan, acquired the rudiments of strategic thinking and battlefield tactics from their European military advisers, but for most of the century they received no formal military education. At the beginning of Nāṣīr al-Dīn Shāh’s reign, his first reforming prime minister, Mīrzā Taqī Khān Amīr Kabīr, founded a European-type academy, the Dar
destitute of esprit de corps, selected and promoted with no reference to aptitude, they are an incubus under which no military system could do otherwise than languish.” At the time Curzon wrote, however, a change was becoming apparent. Iranian officers were benefiting from Russian instruction in the Cossack Brigade and later from the Swedish officers in charge of the gendarmerie. A number would see service with the British-controlled South Persian
Accounts of warfare under the Safavids and Qājārs are to be found in contemporary Persian-language chronicles. Two excellent examples are Iskandar Beg Munshi’s (1560-1633) Tarikh-i ՙAlamara-yi ՙAbaci (c. 1571-1629; The History of Shah ՙAbbās the Great, 1978) and Hasan-e Fasai’s (born c. 1821), Farsnamah-ī Nasiri (1895-1896; History of Persia Under Qājār Rule, 1972). Safavid military organization is described in an anonymous Safavid administrative manual, Tadhkirat al-muluk (c. 1137-1725; A Manual of Safavid Administration, 1943). Chapters 21, 23, and 26 of Sir John Malcolm’s (1769-1833) two-volume The History of Persia from the Most Early Period to the Present Time (1815) provide material on the early Qājār army by an eyewitness. In addition to the official reports of foreign embassies in Tehran, European travelers in nineteenth century Iran frequently wrote down their subjective but insightful impressions of military matters. The most informative is that of Lord George Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (1892). Brigadier-General Sir Percy Sykes (1867-1945), who commanded the South Persian Rifles during World War I, provides a personal account of wartime Iran in chapters 85 through 89 of A History of Persia (1915).
Atkin, M. Russia and Iran, 1780-1828. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980. Axworthy, Michael. The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006. Blow, David. Shah Abbas: The Ruthless King Who Became an Iranian Legend. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2009. Chalabian, Antranig. “The Scorched-Earth Strategy That Shah Abbas I Used Against the Turks in Armenia.” Military History 16, no. 6 (February, 2000): 22. Cronin, Stephanie. The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State, 1910-1926. London: I. B. Tauris, 1997. English, Barbara. The War for a Persian Lady. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971. Finkel, Caroline. “Battle of Çaldiran.” In The Reader’s Companion to Military History, edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Haneda, Masashi. “The Evolution of the Safavid Royal Guard.” Iranian Studies 21 (1989): 57-86. Kazemzadeh, Firuz. “The Origin and Early Development of the Persian Cossack Brigade.” American Slavic and East European Review 15 (1956): 351-363. Lockhart, Laurence. “The Persian Army in the Safavid Period.” Der Islam 24 (1959): 89-98. Matthee, Ruda. “Unwalled Cities and Restless Nomads: Firearms and Artillery in Safavid Iran.” In Safavid Persia: The History and Politics of an Islamic Society, edited by Charles Melville. London: I. B. Tauris, 1996. Savory, Roger. “The Sherley Myth.” Iran 5 (1967): 73. Ward, Steven R. Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2009. Iran: The Forgotten Glory. Documentary. Mystic Films International, 2009. The Persians. Documentary. History Channel, 2006.
The Ottoman Empire
The Mughal Empire
China: The Qing Empire