Iran Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

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.

Political Considerations

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 Reza Shah PahlaviReza Shah PahlaviPahlavi (1878-1944), the shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941, insisted that “Iran” should become the international usage.Iran;modernPersia;modernIran;modernPersia;modern

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 Desert warfaredesert and mountain, its virtual absence of navigable rivers, and its lack of roads and wheeled transport meant that it was best suited to the traditional warfare of pastoral nomadic tribesmen.

From 1500 to 1722 Iran was ruled by the Safavid Safavid EmpireDynasty, one of the “gunpowder-empires” of the early modern period of Islamic history. The Safavids united the entire Iranian plateau and, at times, the adjacent regions of southern Iraq, Transcaucasia, and western Afghanistan under the rule of a single monarch–known as a shah (king) or shahanshah (king of kings)–and imposed a form of Shiism upon most of their subjects. Safavid rule eventually collapsed under assault from Ghilzay Afghanistan;Safavid incursions Afghans of the Qandahār region, thereby inducing czarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire to seize extensive areas of northern and western Iran.

Territorial integrity was restored by Nādir Shāh Nādir ShāhNādir Shāh (Iranian shah)[Nadir Shah]Afshari (1688-1747), a tribal leader of great military capacity, who expelled the invaders and launched successful campaigns far beyond the frontier of modern Iran, from Baghdad to Bukhara, and from the Caucasus to Delhi. Nādir Shāh was assassinated by rival tribesmen in 1747, and the Iranian plateau then reverted to tribal particularism and intertribal conflict. The eastern provinces of the former Safavid Empire (Khorāsān, Sistān, Herāt, and Qandahār), now passed into the hands of the Afghan Durrāni Durrāni Dynasty[Durrani]Dynasty established by Aḥmad Shāh Durrāni (c. 1722-1773) at the death of Nādir Shāh, while in the west internecine warfare prevailed. By the close of the eighteenth century, however, much of the plateau had been brought under the firm control of the head of the Qājār tribe, Aghā Muḥammād Khān QājārAghā Muḥammād Khān Qājār[Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar]Aghā Muḥammād Khān (1742-1797). A cruel eunuch who had been castrated at the age of six by one of Nādir Shāh’s nephews, Aghā Muḥammad Khān Aghā Muḥammad Khān QājārAghā Muḥammad Khān Qājār[Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar]Qājār proved to be a brilliant and rejuvenating leader of tribal cavalry who was able to establish the frontiers that Iran continues to possess.

Aghā Muḥammad Khān Qājār bequeathed his conquests to a nephew whose descendants, the Qājār Qājārs[Qajars]Dynasty, ruled Iran until 1925. Under this dynasty, Iran experienced humiliating military defeats at the hands of Russia (1804-1813 and 1826-1828) and Great Britain (1856-1857), a successful war with the Ottoman Empire (1821-1823), numerous internal uprisings, and an unsuccessful expedition against the Yomut Turkomans of the Gurgan region in 1889. The two wars with Russia;and Iran[Iran]Russia led to the loss of substantial territory in Transcaucasia beyond the Aras River.

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 Anglo-Russian Entente (1907)[Anglo Russian Entente]accord of 1907 divided Iran into spheres of influence between the two great powers, an arrangement that the government of Iran was powerless to prevent. During World War I World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];Iran(1914-1918), despite its official neutrality, Iran found itself invaded by the forces of the belligerents and was later denied a voice at the Paris peacemaking in 1919. With Russia temporarily preoccupied with the Bolshevik Revolution (1917-1921), Great Great Britain;and Iran[Iran]Britain attempted, without success, to impose upon the Iranian government a treaty that would have reduced Iran to a virtual British protectorate. It was against the background of these events that there occurred in 1921 the coup d’état that eventually brought to power the Cossack colonel Reza Khan, who from 1922 vigorously undertook the modernization of the Iranian army. In 1925 Reza Khan swept aside the moribund Qājār Dynasty and proclaimed himself Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Pahlavi Pahlavi DynastyDynasty finally expired in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Military Achievements

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.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The military history of the period from 1500 to 1922 falls into four broadly overlapping phases. First, under the rule of the Safavid EmpireSafavids (1500-1722) and of Nādir Shāh (r. 1736-1747), Iran was a formidable military power, confronting neighboring Ottomans, Mughals, and Central Asian Uzbeks. Iran relied mainly upon its superb tribal cavalry but increasingly adopted Ottoman and European weaponry and military organization. At first, the Iranians were no match against Ottoman Empire;IranOttoman artillery and well-disciplined infantry, the famous Janissariesjanissaries, as shown by their crushing defeat at Çaldiran Çaldiran, Battle of (1514)[Caldiran](1514), but they were quick to learn, and early in the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp Ṭahmāsp IṬahmāsp I[Tahmasp 01]I (1514-1576) the sources refer to the existence of gunners (tupchiyan) and musketeers (tufangchiyan). However, for most of the sixteenth century, the Safavids continued to rely upon their hardy and mobile cavalry, as in Ṭahmāsp’s great victory over the Uzbeks at Jam Jam, Battle of (1528) (1528).

The dynamic ՙAbbās I the ՙAbbās I the GreatՙAbbās I the Great (shah of Persia)[Abbas 01 the Great]Great (1571-1629), who reigned from 1588 to 1629, introduced major innovations. His objectives were to enhance the power of the throne, to break the independence of the turbulent tribal leaders, and to win back the lands lost to the Ottomans by previous shahs. His reforms, primarily the establishment of regular units personally loyal to and paid by the shah, some of whom were equipped with handguns and field artillery, soon produced the sought-for results. In 1598 Herāt was recaptured from the Uzbeks vs. Iranians[Iranians]Uzbeks, and in 1605 the shah won a great personal victory over the Ottomans at Sufiyan, near Tabrīz. During protracted campaigning thereafter, the shah reoccupied Erivan and Nakhshivan, and in 1624 captured Baghdad, from which the Safavids had been expelled in 1534. In 1625, he took the great frontier-fortress of Qandahār from the Mughal Empire;vs. Iranians[Iranians]Mughals, and in 1626 he showed outstanding generalship in foiling a massive Ottoman attempt to reconquer Baghdad. Both Baghdad and Qandahār were lost in 1638, but ՙAbbās I’s great-grandson, ՙAbbās ՙAbbās I the GreatՙAbbās I the Great (shah of Persia)[Abbas 01 the Great]II (1633-1666), regained Qandahār in 1648 and beat back three Mughal attempts to retake it. Thereafter, however, inept rulers, flaccid government, and declining revenues led inevitably to the debacle of 1722, when Iran was conquered by Afghan raiders. The spectacular conquests of Nādir Nādir ShāhNādir Shāh (Iranian shah)[Nadir Shah]Shāh, who devoted himself to reestablishing Iran’s former frontiers, made him the terror of neighboring lands. Nādir Shāh raised Iranian military prestige to unprecedented heights achieved at a dreadful cost of lives and revenues.

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 ՙAbbās MīrzāՙAbbās Mīrzā[Abbas Mirza]Mīrzā (1789-1833), the heir-apparent of the second Qājār ruler, Fatḥ ՙAlī Shah (1771-1834), who was also governor of Azerbaijan, became an enthusiastic reformer and variously sought the help of British and French advisers and equipment to defend his exposed province. The British and French presence was dependent upon the exigencies of those countries’ relations with Russia, but ՙAbbās Mīrzā also employed up to 88 Russian deserters and any other European mercenaries who came his way. During the First Russo-Iranian War Russo-Iranian War, First (1804-1813)[Russo Iranian War, First](1804-1813), he possessed a force of 6,000 infantry trained by European officers and known as the Nizam-i Nizam-i JadidNizam-i Jadid[Nizami Jadid]Jadid, or the New Army. The infantry’s numbers had grown to 8,000 by 1817 and to 12,000 by 1831. In addition, there was a corps of 1,200 gunners trained by European artillery officers and a single cavalry regiment, although where the cavalry were concerned, ՙAbbās Mīrzā retained his faith in the esprit and mobility of traditional tribal levies. To meet the needs of these forces, he established, under European supervision, an arsenal with a cannon foundry and powder mill in Tabrīz and renovated the forts of Tabrīz, Ardabīl, and Khvoy.

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 Russo-Iranian War, Second (1825-1828)[Russo Iranian War, Second](1825-1828) and confirmed the permanent Russian occupation of the Transcaucasian provinces. The poor showing of Iranian troops during the Anglo-Iranian War (1856-1857), which had been designed to force the Iranian withdrawal from Herāt, only reinforced Iranian disillusion. It was quite apparent to the new ruler, Nāṣīr al-Dīn Nāṣīr al-Dīn Shā(Iranian shah)Nāṣīr al-Dīn Shā(Iranian shah)[Nasir al Din Shah]Shāh (1831-1896), that his country lacked the ability to withstand foreign aggression. Merely employing more foreign advisers, a stream of which made their way to Tehran from Britain, France, Italy, and Austria, was not enough; a much more radical solution was called for. Although the shah was not unintelligent, he found himself, in this, as in other aspects of the administration, pulled back and forth between reformers and reactionaries.

Nāṣīr al-Dīn Shāh’s first prime minister, Mīrzā Taqī Khān Amīr Mīrzā Taqī Khān Amīr KabīrMīrzā Taqī Khān Amīr Kabīr[Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir]Kabīr (c. 1798-1852), vigorously initiated reforms, which came to nothing when, having provoked powerful enemies, the shah dismissed him in 1851 and later had him executed. In 1857 a ministry of war was created, and the reforming minister planned changes for the army between 1871 and 1881 that his capricious master would not allow him to implement.

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 Cossack Brigade (Iran)Brigade was formed, with Russian officers, equipment, and drill. The Cossack Brigade possessed a professionalism that no previous unit of the Iranian army had possessed and by the close of the century was the most effective force in the country. Ironically, when a reactionary ruler, Muhammad Ali Shah (1907-1909) used it in an attempt to overthrow the newly granted constitution, it was a rebel army of Bakhtiyari tribesmen who marched on Tehran and saved the constitution. The success of the Cossack Brigade led to the creation of a Swedish-officered gendarmerie in 1910. During World War World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];IranI, the British, concerned with German agents and recalcitrant tribes in eastern and southern Iran, formed the South Persian Rifles. Service in all these units exposed an ever-increasing number of Iranian officers, noncommissioned officers, and other ranks to European military discipline, drill, weaponry, and tactics. They would constitute the first generation of troops in Reza Shah’s new model army.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

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 Shamshir (Persian scimitar)(shamshir), a mace Piyazi (Persian mace) (piyazi), and assorted daggers. There was no uniformity of equipment or dress: A tribesman brought to the campaign whatever he happened to possess, supplemented by what could be looted on the battlefield. For the elite, Armor;Safavids armor consisting of four iron plates covering chest and back and with a hole for the arms on the two side-pieces was an innovation of the Safavid period. It was known as chahar Chahar aina (Persian armor) aina and worn over chain mail. In addition, vambraces, or armor for the forearms, known as Bazuband (Persian armor) bazuband, were worn, and the rider carried a round steel shield. The cone-shaped Helmets;Safavid Khud (Persian helmet) helmet (khud) was topped by a steel spike, with one or more tubes in front to hold a spray of heron or peacock feathers. Usually, chain mail was attached to the sides and back of the helmet to give some additional protection to the neck and shoulders. Iran had a reputation for manufacturing fine Steel;Iran steel (fulad) and was especially famous for its swordsmiths (shamshirgar), with their finely watered and damascened blades. In the seventeenth century, the town of Qom was known for its manufacture of Swords;Iranian swords, but in the eighteenth century Khorāsān took its place. During the nineteenth century the manufacture of armor and swords died out in Iran, although it had formerly been among the most acclaimed mechanical arts.

Over the course of the Safavid period, an increasing number of soldiers carried Firearms;Iranharquebuses, carbines, or muskets, known collectively by the name Tufang (Persian firearms)tufang. To traditional mounted archers, such weapons seemed cumbersome and ineffective, and as did the Egyptian Mamlūks, Iranian cavalry long regarded firearms as unmannerly. At first, these weapons, along with more traditional arms and armor, were imported from abroad. During the reign of Muhammad Khudabanda (r. 1578-1588), a Russian envoy from Czar Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) brought to Qazvin, then the Safavid capital, five hundred firearms and one hundred pieces of artillery.

The earliest Cannons;Irancannons came from Russia or Western Europe. The Ottomans naturally would not allow Artillery;Iranartillery bound for Iran to pass through their territory, although the Iranians must occasionally have captured Ottoman field pieces. As early as 1539 Safavid sources mention the office of the tupchi-bashi, the officer in command of the artillery, who would later have overall responsibility for both the gunners and musketeers. Iranians would eventually manufacture their own cannon and handguns, and until 1922 the gunsmith (tufangsaz) was a respected and ubiquitous figure in the bazaars of larger towns such as Shīrāz, Kermānshāh, or Mashhad. However, the gunsmith’s trade would end with Reza Shah’s prohibition on the private possession of firearms.

Ṣafavid Iran in the Seventeenth Century

The military revival under Nādir Shāh seems to have owed nothing to improved weaponry or technological innovation. Nādir Nādir ShāhNādir Shāh (Iranian shah)[Nadir Shah]Shāh was a superb commander in the field. His victories and the enormous booty he derived from them provided the revenues with which to maintain increasingly larger armies. These were composed of not only Iranians but also Caucasians, Uzbeks, Afghans, and Baluchis. After Nādir Shāh’s death in 1747, no further changes occurred for the remainder of the eighteenth century. The revival of Iran under Aghā Muḥammād Khān Aghā Muḥammād Khān QājārAghā Muḥammād Khān Qājār[Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar]Qājār, who reigned from 1779 to 1797, was based upon his skillful generalship, his astute balancing of tribal rivalries, and his ability to bring out the best in the fighting qualities of his followers.

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 Brown Bess (musket)Bess. European observers commented unfavorably on the condition in which Iranian soldiers maintained their firearms, which were inadequately cleaned and were often allowed to rust. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, most cannons were of British or French origin, but later in the century there were imported Austrian muzzle-loaders, including 7-centimeter mountain guns for mule batteries. By the end of the century, the best artillery was of Russian manufacture. Again, European observers visiting the Tehran arsenal saw artillery pieces deteriorating from neglect, many with gun carriages that had been allowed to rot. Unquestionably, during the quarter-century prior to the 1921 coup, the best-armed unit of the Iranian army was the Cossack Brigade.

Military Organization

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 ՙAbbās I the GreatՙAbbās I the Great (shah of Persia)[Abbas 01 the Great]Great was determined to rely as little as possible upon the turbulent and often insubordinate tribal levies, even while recognizing their advantages: speed, mobility, hardiness, and agility. With these benefits in mind, he formed two new units: the Shahisevan (Safavid military unit)shahisevan, “those loyal to the shah,” recruited from tribesmen willing to sublimate their tribal affinities in fanatic dedication to the service of the shah, and the gullar or Ghulams (Persian slave-soldiers) ghulams, slave-soldiers similar to the Mamlūks of earlier Muslim armies in the Middle East. Iranian slave-soldier troops consisted of Christian slaves or prisoners of war, typically Armenians, Circassians, and Georgians. They became converts to Islam and were recruited to join what was, in effect, a kind of Safavid Praetorian Guard, properly known as the ghulaman-i khassa-yi sharifa, “Slaves of the Noble Household.” These troops were paid for by revenues from the crown-lands and were provided by the government with firearms. Their commander (gullar-agasi) enjoyed the prestige of being one of the greatest officers of state. Unfortunately, the later Safavids allowed this standing army to deteriorate to the point that little of it remained by the eighteenth century. The Qājārs had to begin anew, relying mainly upon foreign advisers in an international situation far less favorable than that enjoyed by their Safavid predecessors.

The military weakness of the Qājārs[Qajars]Qājārs, and the pressure to initiate army reform that built up after 1921, is easily demonstrated by a glance at the Iranian army as it was in 1891. The total strength of 43,889 consisted of 12,427 irregular cavalry amassed through tribal levies; 2,493 European-style semiregular cavalry; 25,000 European-style regular infantry; 1,800 artillery troops, with a nominal 164 guns; 80 camel artillery, useless ceremonial relics of Safavid times; 169 Austrian Corps under the command of Austrian officers; and 2,000 militia.

Only a few of these units were significant. The irregular Cavalry;Persiancavalry were recruited from the tribes that had formerly played so large a part in Iranian military exploits, among which the Kurds, Timuris, and Bakhtiyaris stood out prominently. Tribal units were commanded by tribal chieftains, who held the rank of general (sartip) or colonel (sarhang). The subordinate officers consisted of a “commander of one hundred” (yuzbashi), a “commander of fifty” (panjbashi), and a lieutenant (naib). On active service, officers received allowances but no pay. The common soldier (sarbaz) and his noncommissioned officers received a graduated scale of pay and rations: for the sarbaz, 6.5 pounds of barley for himself and 13 pounds of straw for his Horses and horse riding;Iran horse per diem. Both officers and men provided their own cavalry mounts. The latter were not more than 14.5 hands high but struck observers as possessing great strength, speed, stamina, and remarkable powers of endurance. Riders were extremely agile and could perform extraordinary feats of marksmanship at full gallop. One English officer, Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, Henry CreswickeRawlinson, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810-1895), who trained tribal levies in southwestern Iran during the early nineteenth century, described his men as “the very beau ideal of military material, the men being athletic, strong, hardy and active.” European conventional wisdom, however, held that the native officer corps were of deplorable quality and that Iranian soldiers would perform well only when commanded by European officers. The irregular cavalry were organized into approximately ninety squadrons ofbetween fifty and seven hundred men drawn from all parts of the country, the majority coming from Khorāsān (24 squadrons), Azerbaijan (23), Tehran (6), Gīlān and Māzandarān (5), and Kermānshāh (5).

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 Cossack Brigade (Iran)Brigade, with officers and weapons provided by Russia, although both officers and men supplied their own horses. The government issued rifles, swords, saddles, and bridles. The government also provided barracks (sarbazkhana), accommodations facing an open square or courtyard, with stabling on the ground-floor, resembling a traditional caravansary. The regiment in Eşfahān was equipped and trained in imitation of Prussian uhlan light cavalry, a whim of the powerful governor Zil as-Sultan, a son of Nāṣīr al-Dīn Shāh. Taken as a whole, the semi-irregular cavalry, and especially the Cossack Brigade, were regarded as the most effective part of the army, thanks to the zeal of their Russian officers.

The regular Infantry;Iraninfantry were conscripted province by province, under the command of the local governor. So grim was the life of the sarbaz held to be that recruitment was by virtual impressment, local communities banding together to designate the unfortunate recruit or sometimes paying a sum of money to anyone who would volunteer freely. Service was for life, unless a soldier could raise enough money to buy a discharge from his colonel, and the age range in the regiments ran from adolescent boys to toothless graybeards. However, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and cultivators on crown-lands were exempt from military service. A regiment ideally consisted of 10 companies of 100, both officers and men, making a total of 1,000 men per regiment, but the full complement of men was rarely achieved, and most companies were fixed at around 70. The pay and allowances of the common soldiers were pitiable and were further subject to various perquisites and bribes demanded by the officers. Uniforms, provided by the government, consisted of a tunic of coarse blue serge, trousers of the same material, a brown leather belt, and a black lambskin hat known as a shako, with a brass badge. Outside Tehran, however, most soldiers lacked a full uniform.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

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 Dar al-Funun (military academy)[Dar al Funun]al-Funun, which included some classes in military instruction designed specifically for young officers. Later in the reign, the shah’s favorite son and commander in chief, Naib as-Saltana, established a military academy. However, as late as 1891, the shrewd Lord GeorgeCurzon, GeorgeCurzon, GeorgeCurzon (1859-1925) could write of the officer corps: “Ignorant of military science,

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 South Persian RiflesRifles during World War I. These would form a nucleus of experienced officers who would become the agents of Reza Khan’s post-1922 reforms. It is surely no surprise that the architect of the modern Iranian army should have emerged from the ranks of the Cossack Brigade.

Contemporary Sources

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).Iran;modernPersia;modern

Books and Articles
  • 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.
Films and Other Media
  • Iran: The Forgotten Glory. Documentary. Mystic Films International, 2009.
  • The Persians. Documentary. History Channel, 2006.

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