Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar
|Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar|
آقا محمد خان قاجار
Shahanshah of Iran|
Portrait of Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar
|Reign||1789 – 17 June 1797|
|Successor||Fath-Ali Shah Qajar|
17 June 1797 (aged 55)|
|Father||Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar|
Āghā Moḥammad Khān Qājār (Persian: آقا محمد خان قاجار; 1742–1797) was the founder of the Qajar dynasty of Iran, ruling from 1789 to 1797 as king (shah). He was originally chieftain of the Qoyunlu branch of the Qajar tribe. In 1789, Agha Mohammad Khan was enthroned as the king of Iran, but was not officially crowned as its king until March 1796. On 17 June 1797 Agha Mohammad Khan was assassinated, and was succeeded by his nephew, Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.
Agha Mohammad Khan's reign is noted for the reemergence of a centrally led and united Iran. Following the death of Nader Shah (d. 1747), many of the Iranian territories in the Caucasus that had been ruled by the various subsequent Iranian dynasties since 1501, today comprising Georgia, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia had broken apart into various Caucasian khanates or had declared de facto independence as in Georgia's case. After 48 years, they were all reconquered by Agha Mohammad Khan. Some of his reconquests were, even for their time, exceptionally cruel, such as his re-subjugation of Georgia, where he sacked the capital Tblisi, massacred many of its inhabitants, and moved some 15,000 Georgian captives back to mainland Iran.
Agha Mohammad Khan is also noted for moving the capital to Tehran, where it still stands as of today.
Family and youth
Agha Mohammad Khan was born in around 1742 in Astarabad, he belonged to the Qoyunlu (also spelled Qawanlu) branch of the Qajar tribe. The tribe had several other branches, one of the most prominent ones being the Develu, which often fought against the Qoyunlu. Agha Mohammad Khan was the eldest son of the chieftain of the Qoyunlu clan, Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar, and was the grandson of Fath Ali Khan, a prominent aristocrat, who was executed by the orders of shah Tahmasp II (possibly at the urging of Nader Qoli Beg, who would later become known as Nader Shah after usurping the throne of Iran in 1736 and thus marking the foundation of the Afsharid dynasty). Agha Mohammad Khan had several half-brothers and full-brothers. They were: Hosayn Qoli Khan, Morteza Qoli Khan, Mostafa Qoli Khan, Reza Qoli Khan, Jafar Qoli Khan, Mahdi Qoli Khan, Abbas Qoli Khan and Ali Qoli Khan.
When Nader Shah died in 1747, the Afsharid rule of Iran fell apart, which gave Mohammad Hasan the opportunity to try to seize Astarabad for himself, which made Nader Shah's nephew Adil Shah march from Mashhad to the city in order to capture him. Although he failed to capture the latter, he managed to capture Agha Mohammad Khan, whom at first he planned to kill, but later chose to spare his life and instead had him castrated and thereafter freed, which is therefore he is known by the title of "Agha", a common title among eunuchs who served at the court.
The death of Mohammad Hasan
During the following 10 years, Afsharid rule in Khorasan suffered heavily from war among rival chieftains and from invasions by Durrani ruler of Qandahar, Ahmad Shah Durrani. During this period, Mohammad Hasan fought against the Pashtun military leader Azad Khan Afghan and the Zand ruler Karim Khan for the suzerainty over the western part of Nader Shah's former empire. He was, however, defeated in 1759 by a Zand army, and thereafter betrayed by his own followers and killed by his old rival, Mohammad Khan of Savadkuh. Due to Agha Mohammad Khan's castration, his brother Hosayn Qoli Khan was appointed as the new chieftain of the Qoyunlu instead. Astarabad thereafter shortly fell under the control of Karim Khan, who appointed a Develu as its governor. Meanwhile, Agha Mohammad Khan and his brother Hosayn Qoli Khan fled to the steppe. One year later, Agha Mohammad made an incursion against Astarabad, but was later forced to flee while he was chased by the city's governor. Agha Mohammad Khan managed to reach Ashraf, but was at last seized and was sent as a hostage to Tehran, where Karim Khan was at. Hosayn Qoli Khan was also shortly captured and sent to Karim Khan.
Life at Karim Khan's court
Agha Mohammad Khan, during his stay, was treated kindly and honorably by Karim Khan, who made him convince his kinsmen to lay down their arms, which they did. Karim Khan then settled them in Damghan. In 1763, Agha Mohammad Khan and Hosayn Qoli Khan were sent to the Zand capital, Shiraz, where their paternal aunt Khadija Begum, who was part of Karim Khan's harem, lived. Agha Mohammad Khan's two half-brothers Morteza Qoli Khan and Mostafa Qoli Khan were granted permission to live in Astarabad, due to their mother being the sister of the governor of the city. Agha Mohammad Khan's remaining brothers were sent to Qazvin, where they were treated honorably.
Agha Mohammad, during his stay at Karim Khan's court, was looked upon more as a respected guest than a captive. Furthermore, Karim Khan also acknowledged Agha Mohammad Khan's political knowledge and used to ask for his advice on interests of the state and used to call him his "Piran-i Viseh", which is the name of an intelligent counselor of the legendary Iranian king Afrasiab. Two of Agha Mohammad Khan's brothers who were at Qazvin were also sent to Shiraz during this period. In February 1769, Karim Khan appointed Hosayn Qoli Khan as the governor of Damghan. When Hosayn Qoli Khan reached Damghan, he immediately came in a fierce conflict with the Develu and other tribes in order to avenge his father's death. He was, however, killed in ca. 1777 near Findarisk by some Turks from the Yamut tribe, whom he had clashed with. On 1 March 1779, while Agha Mohammad Khan was hunting, he got informed by Khadija Begum, that Karim Khan, after 6 months of being ill, had died.
Rise to power
Conquest of Mazandaran and Gilan
Agha Mohammad Khan then took with him a group of loyal followers and left for Tehran. Meanwhile, in Shiraz, people were fighting among themselves. In Tehran, Agha Mohammad Khan met the main chieftains of the Develu clan, whom he made peace with. He then went to the shrine of Shah Abd al-Azim, where his father's skull was kept. He then went to the Mazandaran Province, where his first task was to set up his suzerainty among his Qoyunlu brothers. This resulted in a clash with his two brothers Reza Qoli and Morteza Qoli, whom he defeated on 2 April and conquered Mazandaran. Meanwhile, Morteza Qoli fled to Astarabad, where he fortified himself. Agha Mohammad Khan could not simply force himself in, since starting a war with Morteza Qoli, would mean that his frail alliance with the Develu could get canceled, since Morteza Qoli's mother was a Develu. At the same time, the Zand prince Ali Murad Khan sent an army consisting of Zand and Afghan troops under Azad Khan Afghan's son Mahmud Khan to Mazandaran, which Agha Mohammad Khan's brother Jafar Qoli Khan managed to repel. Agha Mohammad Khan, together with Hosayn Qoli Khan's sons Fath-Ali Qoli and Hosayn Qoli, was now in a firm position in Babol, the capital of Mazandaran.
Some time later, Reza Qoli invaded Babol with an army of men from Lahijan, where he captured Agha Mohammad Khan. When Morteza Qoli found of out of his capture, marched towards the place with an army of Turkmens and released Agha Mohammad Khan. The three brother then tried to settle their problems, which Agha Mohammad Khan and Reza Qoli managed to do, while Morteza Qoli was discontented and fled to Ali Murad Khan in Isfahan, and then later to Sadiq Khan Zand in Shiraz. He died at last in Khorasan. His former supporters then went to Agha Mohammad Khan and began serving him. At that time, Agha Mohammad Khan had once again become involved in a conflict with his brother Reza Qoli, whom he defeated in several battles, and thereafter established peace with him once more: Morteza Qoli was allowed as the de facto ruler of Astarabad and several districts in Mazandaran.
However, peace did not last for long: Ali Murad Khan shortly invaded Mazandaran, which made Agha Mohammad Khan march from Babol with an army of Mazandaranis and Qajars and attack the latter, whom he managed to repel from the province. Agha Mohammad Khan then seized Qumis, Semnan, Damghan, Shahrud and Bastam. Furthermore, he also made Hidayat-Allah Khan, the ruler of Gilan, his vassal. He thereafter granted land in Semnan to his brother Ali Qoli, due to the help he gave him in his conquest of the mentioned cities.
First conflict with the Russians, dispute with Gilan, and the invasion of northern Persian Iraq
In 1781, the regime of Russia, which was interested in building a trade route with Iran in order to be able to trade with regions deep into Asia, sent an emissary under Marko Ivanovich Voinovich to the coast of Gorgan, where the latter requested for approval to build a trading-post at Ashraf, which Agha Mohammad Khan refused. However, Voinovich ignored his refusal and went on to establish an interim settlement on the Ashurada island. Agha Mohammad Khan was unable to do anything, since he did not possess any ship - he instead tricked Voinovich and some of his men to meet him at Astarabad, where they were held as captives, until Voinovich was forced to order his men to leave Ashurada.
One year later, Agha Mohammad Khan invaded Gilan, due to its ruler Hidayat-Allah had changed his allegiance to the Zand dynasty. Hidayat-Allah then sent two diplomats, Mirza Sadiq and Agha Sadiq, to Agha Mohammad, to make peace. He thereafter out of precaution went to Shirvan. The diplomats were unable to reach to favorable terms with Agha Mohammad Khan, who raided Gilan's capital Rasht, where he gained massive loads of riches. Extremely happy by his victory, he sent his brother Jafar Qoli Khan to conquer the northern part of Persian Iraq. The latter defeated a Zand army in Ray (or Karaj), and thereafter seized Qazvin. He then marched to Zanjan, which he also seized. In 1783, Agha Mohammad Khan besieged Tehran, a town under Zand control which had proved much trouble to him. During the siege, plague started spreading in the town, and thereafter to Agha Mohammad Khan's army camp outside the city, which forced him to lift the siege.
Mazandaran's brief submission to the Zand dynasty
The next year, Ali Murad Khan, in vengeance for Agha Mohammad Khan's attack on Tehran the previous year, sent a massive army under his son Shaykh Vais Khan to Mazandaran, which made its people quickly surrender, while Agha Mohammad Khan and a few of his supporters fled to Astarabad, where he tried to strengthen the city as much he could. Meanwhile, Morteza Qoli quickly changed his allegiance and began serving the Zand dynasty. Ali Murad Khan then sent an army under his relative Mohammad Zahir Khan to Astarabad, which he laid siege to. Fortunately for Agha Mohammad Khan, he had already obtained many provisions in case of a siege. Every day, Agha Mohammad Khan's men would try to lay waste to the countryside to limit the besiegers provisions. This in the end made the besiegers situation difficult, which made Agha Mohammad Khan leave the city and attack them. Mohammad Zahir Khan then fled towards the Karakum Desert, but was captured by Agha Mohammad Khan's Yamut allies. Only a few of his men managed to survive. Meanwhile, Agha Mohammad Khan defeated a Zand garrison near Ashraf and afterwards marched towards Sari. By the start of November 1784, Agha Mohammad had repelled all the Zand troops from Mazandaran.
First war with Jafar Khan Zand
Meanwhile, Ali Murad Khan had raised another group of Zand troops, which he sent to Mazandaran under the command of his cousin Rustam Khan Zand, but was defeated by Agha Mohammad Khan. Ali Murad Khan later died on 11 February 1785. When Agha Mohammad Khan heard about his death, he went to Tehran to try to capture it. When he reached the city, the city's inhabitants quickly closed, and told him that they would only open the gate for the king of Iran, which according to them, was Jafar Khan Zand, who had succeeded Ali Murad Khan. Thus Agha Mohammad Khan had to defeat Jafar Khan, in order to get recognized as the king of Iran. He thereafter quickly marched towards Isfahan. Jafar Khan then sent his men to stop his advance towards the city, but they withdrew at Qum without even putting any resistance. Jafar Khan then sent an even larger Zand army towards Agha Mohammad Khan, who defeated the army near Kashan. Jafar Khan then fled to Shiraz. Agha Mohammad then arrived to Isfahan, where he discovered what was left of the Zand treasure and Jafar Khan's harem. The Qajar troops then looted the city.
During summertime in 1785, Agha Mohammad Khan made the city his headquarter during his expeditions in Persian Iraq, where he managed to bring the Bakhtiari chieftains under his suzerainty. He then left for Tehran, appointing a former Zand commander as its governor. When he arrived to Tehran, the town finally submitted to him. At the same time, his men captured Hamadan and forced many Kurdish and Turkic chieftains to submit to Qajar rule. On 12 March 1786, Agha Mohammad Khan made Tehran his capital, which by then had a population of 15,000-30,000 people. It appears that during this period, Agha Mohammad Khan saw himself as the king of Iran, although he avoided using the title "shah".
Some time later, while Agha Mohammad Khan was in northern Iran, Jafar Khan quickly marched towards Isfahan and re-captured it. He then sent troops towards Kashan and Qum, while he marched towards Hamadan. He was, however, defeated by local tribal chieftains, such as a certain Khosrow Khan and Mohammad Hosayn Khan Qaragozlu. Jafar Khan then withdrew to Isfahan. When Agha Mohammad Khan heard about the Zand invasion of Isfahan and its surroundings, he quickly marched towards the city, which made Jafar Khan retreat back to Shiraz once again. Agha Mohammad Khan then appointed Jafar Qoli Khan as the city's governor. However, the governor of Zanjan shortly revolted afterwards, which forced Agha Mohammad Khan to go back north, where he suppressed the latter's revolt and pardoned him.
Second invasion of Gilan
However, Agha Mohammad Khan now had to focus on Gilan, because Hidayat-Allah Khan had returned to the province (allegedly with Russian help) since the Qajar invasion of the province in 1782. In Agha Mohammad Khan's eyes, the whole Caspian coast was under threat by Hidayat-Allah and the Russians. Agha Mohammad Khan and his men easily managed to enter Gilan. While he was marching towards Rasht, he was joined by a local ruler named Mahdi Beg Khalatbari and other people. Furthermore, the Russian consul in Gilan betrayed Hidayat-Allah by providing Agha Mohammad Khan weaponry. Hidayat-Allah then tried to flee to Shirvan once again, but was captured by men sent by a local ruler named Agha Ali of Shaft (or another local ruler according to some others sources), who killed him to vengeance the slaughter of his family a few years ago. Gilan was now completely under Qajar rule. Besides the conquest of Gilan, the second most valuable thing for Agha Mohammad Khan was the gaining of Hidayat-Allah's treasure.
Second war with Jafar Khan Zand and enthronement
Some time later, a local ruler named Amir Mohammad Khan, who had recently with another local ruler named Taqi Khan (the ruler of Yazd) defeated Jafar Khan and seized many riches, invaded Qajar territory, and marched towards Isfahan. Jafar Qoli Khan then left the city before he could reach it and defeated the latter. Agha Mohammad Khan then went southwards once again. He met Jafar Qoli Khan at Isfahan in 1788, and after some time, made Taqi Khan accept Qajar suzerainty, and thereafter punished some Qashqai tribes, who fled into the mountains. Agha Mohammad then advanced closely to Shiraz, where he hoped to bait Jafar Khan out of Shiraz, which was strongly fortified, making it very hard to besiege. Unfortunately for Agha Mohammad Khan, Jafar Khan stayed in the city, which made Agha Mohammad Khan return to Isfahan, where appointed his brother Ali Qoli as its new governor, thus succeeding Jafar Qoli Khan. He then left for Tehran.
With Agha Mohammad once again in the north, Jafar Khan began raising an army to prepare another attack against Isfahan and its surroundings. When Ali Qoli found out about it, he sent a group of tribesmen to a city south to Isfahan, named Qumishah. However, Jafar Khan managed to easily defeat them. Ali Qoli thereafter retreated to Kashan. Agha Mohammad Khan, learning of this, rapidly marched towards Isfahan, which made Jafar Khan withdraw to Shiraz once again. Agha Mohammad Khan, who was too unconfident to try and capture Shiraz, then went back to Tehran. Fortunately for him, Jafar Khan was murdered on 23 January 1789, which started a four-month civil war between several Zand princes who fought for succession to the throne. Jafar Khan's son Lotf Ali Khan emerged being the victor in this civil war in May.
It was also during this period that Agha Mohammad Khan was enthroned (however still not crowned) and named his nephew Baba Khan (who would later be known as Fath-Ali Shah Qajar) as his heir. Thus it makes it suitable to name 1789 as the start of his reign.
War with Lotf Ali Khan, family disputes, and the first invasion of Azerbaijan
Now that the Zand dynasty was no longer under the rule of Jafar Khan Zand, Agha Mohammad Khan saw it as a good opportunity to capture Shiraz once and for all. He marched towards the city, and when he was close to it, he was attacked by Lotf Ali Khan: a battle was fought on 25 June 1789, which ended in Lotf Ali Khan withdrawing back to Shiraz while Agha Mohammad Khan followed him and besieged the city. The siege lasted until 7 September. He then set an encampment and went back to Tehran, where he stayed until the end of the ensuing Nowruz. On 17 May 1790, he once again marched towards Shiraz. When he reached Fars, the governor of Bihbahan acknowledged his authority. Lotf Ali Khan once again went out of Shiraz in order to stop Agha Mohammad's advance, but the Qajar ruler withdrew to Qazvin and its surroundings, where he had to resolve some problems. Agha Mohammad Khan later quarreled with Jafar Qoli Khan, who saw himself as the best heir of the Qajar dynasty. Agha Mohammad thereafter had him executed, which he considered essential since he known how a dynasty could quickly decline due to family claims over the throne, which he had learned from the Zand family disputes.
While Lotf Ali Khan was having problems with Kerman, Agha Mohammad Khan could thus freely focus on Azerbaijan. He appointed Baba Khan as the governor of Persian Iraq and marched into Azerbaijan in 1791 during springtime. He stopped at Tarum, and sent his relative Suleiman Khan Qoyunlu to make the Talysh Khanate acknowledge Qajar authority. Agha Mohammad Khan thereafter went to Sarab, where he forced the Sarab Khanate into submission. He then went to Ardabil, where he forced the Ardabil Khanate into submission and visited the city's shrine. He thereafter went to Qarajadagh, where brought an end to all resistance against him. He then appointed the Donboli noble Hosayn Qoli Donboli as the governor of Khoy and Tabriz.
While Agha Mohammad Khan was conquering Azerbaijan, Lotf Ali Khan used the opportunity to attack Isfahan. However, Ebrahim Khan Kalantar, who was the governor of Shiraz and was loved by its inhabitants, used Lotf Ali Khan's absence from the city to stage a coup, while his brother Mohammad-Hosayn Shirazi, who was the commander of the Zand ruler, mutinied along with many other troops. Lotf Ali Khan then rushed to Shiraz, but when he arrived at the city, the inhabitants refused to open the gates. He then went into the mountains and raised an army big enough to be able to capture Shiraz. Ebrahim Khan Kalantar then sent an emissary to Agha Mohammad Khan, asking him to become the ruler of Fars, and willing to give him 3,000 mares if he accepted, which he immediately did. When Agha Mohammad Khan arrived at Fars, he appointed Ebrahim Khan Kalantar as the governor of the whole province, and sent one of his men to take Lotf Ali Khan's family to Tehran, and take the possessions of the Zand family. Furthermore, he also ordered Baba Khan to establish a garrison nearby Shiraz to be prepared to help Ebrahim Khan Kalantar if needed.
At the meantime, Lotf Ali Khan had defeated the men sent by Ebrahim Khan Kalantar and had captured the stronghold of Kazerun. He then marched to the countryside of Shiraz, where he prepared to deprive the city of food. Some time later, the Qajar army from the nearby garrison attacked Lotf Ali Khan's men and defeated them at first, but when Lotf Ali Khan himself decided to participate in the battle, the Qajar army got defeated. When Agha Mohammad Khan found out about this, he sent 7,000 horsemen to reinforce Ebrahim Khan Kalantar's forces, and also ordered the surviving Qajar forces from the nearby garrison to also do the same.
Two years later, after having brought eastern Georgia and the other principal territories in the North Caucasus and South Caucasus back within the Iranian domains, he proclaimed himself Shahanshah (King of Kings) on the Mughan plain, just like Nader Shah had done some sixty years earlier.
Reconquest of Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus
In 1795 he attacked eastern Georgia, which had been in the early modern era under Iranian vassalage for the first time in 1502, and under intermittent Iranian rule and suzerainty since 1555, but had been de facto independent after the disintegrating of the Iranian Afsharid Dynasty. His successful campaign brought eastern Georgia, recently unified by Erekle II and consisting of the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti, effectively back into the Iranian domains. Erekle II, who was appointed as king of Kakheti decades earlier by Nader Shah himself, had put up a fierce resistance at the battle of Tbilisi, but was eventually soundly defeated.
Rest of reign
Agha Mohammad restored Persia to a unity it had not had since Karim Khan. He reunited the territory of contemporary Iran and the Caucasus region, the latter which had made part of the concept of Iran for three centuries. He was, however, a man of extreme violence who killed almost all who could threaten his hold on power, a trait he showed in several of his campaigns. A year after Mohammad Khan re-subjugated the Caucasus, he also captured Khorasan. Shah Rukh, ruler of Khorasan and grandson of Nader Shah, was tortured to death because Agha Mohammad thought that he knew of Nadir's legendary treasures.
In 1778, Agha Mohammad moved his capital from Sari in his home province of Mazandaran to Tehran. He was the first Persian ruler to make Tehran — the successor to the great city of Rayy — his capital, although both the Safavids and the Zands had expanded the town and built palaces there. One of the main reasons noted for moving the capital much more northwards was to remain in close reach of Azarbaijan and Iran's integral Caucasian territories in the North Caucasus and South Caucasus, at that time not yet ceded to Imperial Russia, a fate to be followed in the course of the 19th century. He was formally crowned in 1796 and founded the Qajar dynasty.
Although the Russians briefly took and occupied Derbent and Baku during the expedition of 1796 under the command of count Valerian Zubov, Agha Mohammad Khan successfully expanded Iranian influence into the Caucasus, reasserting Iranian sovereignty over its former dependencies in the region. He was, however, a notoriously cruel ruler, who reduced Tbilisi to ashes, while massacring and carrying away its Christian population, to a degree similar as he had done with his Muslim subjects. He based his strength on tribal manpower in the mould of Genghis Khan, Timur and Nader Shah.
Agha Mohammad's successful reign however was short-lived, as he was assassinated in 1797 in his tent in the city of Shusha, the capital of the Karabakh khanate, three days after he had taken the city, and less than 3 years in power. According to Hasan-e Fasa'i's' Farsnama-ye Naseri, during Agha Mohammad's stay in Shusha, one night "a quarrel arose between a Georgian servant named Sadeq and the valet Khodadad-e Esfahani. They raised their voices to such a pitch that the shah became angry and ordered both to be executed. Sadeq Khan-e Shaghaghi, a prominent emir, interceded on their behalf, but was not listened to. The shah, however, ordered their execution to be postponed until Saturday, as this happened to be the evening of Friday (the Islamic holy day), and ordered them back to their duties in the royal pavilion, unfettered and unchained, awaiting their execution the next day. From experience, however, they knew that the King would keep to what he had ordered, and, having no hope, they turned to boldness. When the shah was sleeping, they were joined by the valet Abbas-e Mazandarani, who was in the plot with them, and the three invaded the royal pavilion and with dagger and knife murdered the shah."
His nephew, crowned as Fath-Ali Shah Qajar, succeeded him.
During Agha Mohammad Khan's reign, provincial administration followed the same model of the Safavid one; beglerbegis were appointed to govern provinces. A city was under the rule of a kalantar and darugha, while its quarters was under the rule of the kadkhuda.
Agha Mohammad Khan did not construct or repair much during his reign, due to the amount of campaigns he was busy with. In Tehran, he ordered the creation of a mosque named the Masjid-e Shah (meaning "the Shah's mosque"), while in Mashhad he ordered the reparation of the Imam Reza shrine. In Astarabad, he repaired (or fortified) the walls, emptied the ditch, built several buildings, one of them being a palace for the governor. Furthermore, he also improved the luxury of the city. He did something very much alike in Babol, Ashraf and Sari. Of all these constructions and reparations, his best and most lasting achievement is debatably making Tehran his capital, which till this day is the country's capital and biggest city.
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Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar
|Shah of the Qajar Dynasty of Iran
| Succeeded by|
Fath-Ali Shah Qajar