Military of the Afsharid dynasty of Persia
Nader Shah's battle standard
1736-1747 (national military)|
1747-1796 (dynastic military only)
|Allegiance||Shahanshah (King of Kings)|
|Type||Land Forces, Navy|
|Size||375,000 at the zenith of Nader Shah's power.|
|Patron||Shahanshah of the Persian Empire|
|Nader Shah, Ebrahim Khan Afshar, Tahmasp Khan Jalayer, Reza Qoli Mirza Afshar, Adil Shah, Nasrollah Qoli Khan Afshar, Fath-Ali Khan Afshar, Heraclius II of Georgia|
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, led by one of the most talented and successful military leaders of history.
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 in towards the very end of the eighteenth century reunified the nation.
The infantry arm in the majority of Persian armies both in antiquity (Achaemenid, Arsacid, Sassanid) as well as modern history (Seljukid, Safavid) were considered a secondary force rather than an arm equal in importance to the cavalry. Additionally firearm infantry were never a fully developed corps in the Persian army with the exception of Shah Abbas the great's reforms which did bring forth a modernised matchlock wielding body of soldiers into the Persian army.
The entire infantry corps had a standardised uniform of blue tunics and red trousers with a tall hat referred to as kolāh-e Nāderi, (کلاهِ نادری).
Nader's early campaigns against the Abdali Afghans of western Afghanistan which fielded superior cavalry compelled Nader to seek a tactical solution geared around an infantry solution. The development of this system of having strong firearm infantry to provide a stable pivot around which to position artillery and manoeuvre cavalry allowed Nader to defeat the Abdali horsemen.
The Tofangchi (تفنگچی) were the regular musket armed infantry of the army and had been an increasingly large part of the Persian armies since the time of the Safavids. The Tofangchi also carried a melee weapon such as either a long dagger (Khanjar) or a curved Persian sword (shamshir). Generally the Tofangchi were equipped with lighter muskets than the elite Jazāyerchi.
The Jazāyerchi (جزایرچی) were the elite of Nader's infantry musketeers. The Jazāyer (جزایر), a flintlock musket, used by these infantrymen was of a much heavier calibre than their European counterparts and consequently had a greater range as well as improved accuracy (the average European musket weighed around 5 kilograms and fired a shot only 18 millimetres in diameter, whereas the Jazāyer weighed almost 18 kilograms and fired a shot 24 millimetres in diameter).
Unlike European muskets however, the Jazāyer was loaded using a horn rather than a paper cartridge meaning although the Jazāyer had the advantages of range, force of impact and accuracy, it took longer to reload than the standard European muskets of the era. One of the earliest recordings of Persian soldiers using Jazāyer muskets in combat dates back to the mid-seventeenth century. In addition to the Jazāyer musket, the Jazāyerchi also used curved Persian swords called shamshirs. This body of infantry underwent an incredibly intense regiment of drills and continuous training. An eyewitness account of one of the training sessions gives the following description;
"...the infantry—I mean those that carried muskets—would get together in their own units and they would shoot their guns at a target and exercise continuously. If Tahmasp Quli Khan, (referring here to Nader), saw an ordinary soldier consistently on top form he would promote him to be a leader of 100 men or a leader of 50 men. He encouraged all the soldiers toward bravery, ability and experience, and in simple words he himself gave an example of strong character and military virtue."
The Jazāyerchi units engaged in training several hours everyday. A clear emphasis was given to constant drilling of the soldiers. Nader shaped the corps of the Jazāyerchi himself and often took personal command of them in battle. According to another contemporary, the Jazāyerchi were well uniformed and provided with the best equipment.
The total number of the Jazāyerchi seems to have varied with time as we have varying reports of strength numbers but generally speaking the corps was approximately a dozen thousand strong. Jonas Hanway reported that in 1744 there was a contingent of 12,000 Jazāyerchi in addition to the 40,000 regular Tofangchi (musketeers). Nader also had a contingent of 12,000 Jazāyerchi on his Central Asian campaign.
Although the Jazāyerchi were an infantry corps they usually campaigned on mounts and occasionally fought as mounted troops also, (as some units did at Karnal). They were used to achieve the hardest and most crucial tactical tasks due to their high quality as elite fighting troops, proving their worth in many battles including Mihmandust, Murche-Khort, Kirkuk, Yeghevard, Karnal and Kars.
On the deadly impact of the Jazāyer during the Battle of Karnal, a contemporary noted that "An arrow cannot answer a Jazāyer".
The cavalry held the most esteemed position in the Iranian armies from the very beginnings of Iranian Empires well over 2,500 years ago. Nader introduced far reaching reforms in this arm of the military including the State's financial responsibility for the cavalrymen's mounts. Prior to Nader, horsemen would be unwilling to cause much risk for their steeds as they were usually a prized property of their master's. The cavalry corps were fundamentally divided into two groups by their origin (whether they were recruited by the central government or pressed into service from subject lands and from tributary clans).
...they attacked from all sides, circling in any new direction. The ranks closed in and then they would charge and then disperse, after which this same scattered group would close ranks on the same point. They would feign a retreat and then counter attack...— Vatatzes, Basile
Although the majority of the cavalry were armed with shamshirs a number of other weapons such as lances and firearms were also used. By 1736 muskets were one of the standard weapons of the cavalry, enabling the troops further flexibility in both scouting and skirmishing (as witnessed at Karnal).
The most prestigious cavalry units belonging to the State were the Shah's personal guard. One of the most illustrious units was Savaran-e Saltanati (سواران سلطنتی). The title of the unit can be translated as the "Royal Cavalry". The Afsharid, Jalayerid, Qajarid clans were used as the main pools of recruitment as well as the Shahsevan of Azerbaijan, and Iranian tribes of Western Iran. The Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan (سواران سپاه خراسان) consisted of 20 fowj (each fowj being a regiment of 1,000 soldiers) giving a total of 20,000 horsemen.
The Gholāmān-e Shāh (غلامان شاه, literally meaning "Servants of the Shah") was a unit of 3,000 chosen cavalrymen which functioned as Nader's personal guard.
Another prestigious division in Nader's forces was the Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan (سواران سپاه خراسان), which can be translated as the "Riders of the Army of Khorasan". Drawn primarily from the Gilzai, Abdali, Kurds and other tribal elements in the Empire. The Afghan horsemen (both Gilzai & Abdali) were among the very finest of shock cavalry in Asia. The size of this cavalry body fluctuated with time but at one point it was reported as 70,000 strong. Elements within the Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan were occasionally promoted by Nader to the Savaran-e Saltanati. The Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan played a decisive role in the final phase of the battle of Kars in which they participated in a huge flank attack, (40,000 strong), which Nader led personally.
One of the branches of service to benefit most from Nader's reforms was by far the artillery. During the reign of the Safavid dynasty gunpowder weapons were used to a relatively limited extent and were certainly not to be considered central to the Safavid military machine. Although most of Nader's military campaigns were conducted with an aggressive speed of advance which brought up difficulties in keeping up the heavy guns with the army's rapid marches, Nader placed great emphasis on enhancing his artillery units.
The main centres of Persian armament production were Kermanshah, Isfahan, Merv. These military factories achieved high levels of production and managed to equip the army with good quality cannon. However mobile workshops allowed for Nader to maintain his strategic mobility whilst preserving versatility in the deployment of heavy siege cannon when required.
One of Nader's key artillery units were the zamburakchi (زمبورکچی), a corpse of artillery batteries which were 1 or 2-pounder swivel guns mounted on the back of camels. They were rather inaccurate and short in range compared to regular field-artillery but had the clear advantage in mobility and when massed could deliver a devastating volley (as seen in the battles of Yeghevard and Karnal). The Persian army maintained a corps of many hundreds of zamburaks.
The field artillery became an integral part of Nader's forces. During Nader's first Mesopotamian campaign, the field army he marched north to Samarra to confront the relief force commanded by Topal Pasha contained eighteen field pieces (four 30-pounders, six 15-pounders and another six 9-pounders).
Benefiting from Nader's reforms, the Persian field artillery became superior to both the Ottoman and in particular the Mughal artillery. In the battles of Yeghevard and Kars the Persian guns fired more accurately and attained a significantly higher rate of fire than their Turkish counterparts. Persian artillery was also very effective in Nader's Central Asian Campaign as the warriors of the Central Asian Khanate were unfamiliar with engaging armies with modernised artillery and gunpowder.
Nader shah’s (r. 1736-47) earliest moves toward establishing a navy arose out of the consequences of his military campaigns in the interior of Persia. At the end of 1729 and the beginning of 1730, and again in 1734, Nāder Shah tried to induce the Dutch and English East India Companies (see EAST INDIA COMPANY) to use their ships based in Bandar ʿAbbās to intercept fugitive enemies (e.g., Afghans, or the rebel Moḥammad Khan Baluch, governor of Kohgiluya). Dissatisfied with this situation and already looking to project his power further, Nāder Shah appointed Moḥammad-Laṭif Khan as his admiral on the Persian Gulf coast with orders to buy ships from the Dutch and English and establish a naval base at Bushire (Gombroon Diary, 2/13 May 1734).
Under some duress, the Dutch and English gave help in 1734, but they were reluctant to sell their vessels. Moḥammad-Laṭif Khan managed to buy two good-sized English ships (brigantines) nonetheless, and another two from a local Arab shaikh, and in April 1735 he made an attack on Ottoman Basra. The Ottomans frustrated this attempt by commandeering two powerful English ships that happened to be in port. In May 1736, Moḥammad-Laṭif Khan copied this action, seized the British East Indiaman Northumberland in Bušehr, and sailed with it and a number of smaller ships to Bahrain, which had been lost by the Safavids at the beginning of the previous decade, capturing it easily (Gombroon Diary, 17/28 June 1736; Floor 1987 pp 41–2).
The Persians did not keep control of Bahrain for long. Capturing Bahrain may have encouraged Nāder Shah to more ambitious enterprises in the Persian Gulf, but it had other effects too. It irritated the maritime Arabs and stimulated piracy and raiding against vessels from Persian ports. It also attracted the attention of Taqi Khan Širāzi, a courtier and financial adviser to Nāder Shah, who had been made governor of Fars. Taqi Khan arrived too late in Bushire to take part in the expedition to Bahrain, but took credit for its success nonetheless (Lockhart, 1938, p. 108; Floor, 1987, pp 41–42)
In March 1737, Moḥammad-Laṭif Khan sailed with 5,000 troops to the Straits of Hormuz, in response to an appeal for help from the Sultan of Masqat. The Persians defeated the Sultan’s rebel enemies, and after some difficulties renewed the campaign the following year, capturing Masqat. Some forts still held out for the rebels, and Moḥammad-Laṭif Khan, Taqi Khan, and the Sultan fell out among themselves. Envious of Moḥammad-Laṭif Khan’s success, Taqi Khan had him poisoned, but he himself proved less successful as a naval commander, having little grasp of the necessities of naval provisioning and logistics. The Persians lost ground on land, falling back on Jolfār (Raʾs-al-Ḵayma); and the Arab sailors in the Persian fleet mutinied, turning pirate (Floor, 1987, pp 43–45).
Over the next four years a desultory struggle with mutineers and pirates continued; some of the mutineers sided with the Persians again, only for new mutinies to break out later, prompted again by Taqi Khan’s failure to pay or provision the ship’s crews properly. In 1739, Taqi Khan attempted, under orders from Nāder Shah, to make a combined land-and-sea expedition to Sind, to meet Nāder Shah himself there as he returned with his army from the conquest of Delhi. The expedition was a complete failure; the troops ran short of food and water in the Makrān desert and were harassed and defeated by local Baluchis. The meeting never happened, and Taqi Khan had to pull back to Bandar ʿAbbās (Gombroon Diary entries for October and November 1739; Floor, 1987, pp. 46–47). The episode seems to indicate Nāder Shah’s intention to link up with his new sphere of influence in India, make use of the faster communications possible by sea, and control the important trade route to India. A further indication was his decision at this time to have Persian currency re-minted to make it interchangeable with the Indian rupee (Gombroon Diary 5/16 February 1740; see also Subrahmanyam).
Already in 1734, in order to evade Nāder Shah’s demands but also scenting a business opportunity, the British had suggested that Nāder Shah should buy ships from their yards in Surat, on the Gulf of Cambay. The first of these excellent teak-built vessels arrived in the Persian Gulf in 1741. Nāder Shah, planning to augment them by building his own ships from Persian timber, had timber carried to Bushire, with immense labor and suffering, all the way from the forests of Māzanderān (Bazin, p. 319).
By the spring of 1742 the Persians had a fleet of fifteen ships in the Persian Gulf, most of them powerful vessels built in Surat. By this time the swell of piracy and mutiny had receded again, and after new invitation from the Sultan, Taqi Khan made another intervention in Masqat. This time, the expedition was made on the basis that, should it be successful, the Sultan would recognize Persian sovereignty over his territories. The new fleet was able to transport more troops this time, and the rebels were overwhelmed. The last of them made terms in July 1743, the Persians took control of Masqat itself, and that appeared to be the final, decisive chapter in the story (Floor, 1987, p. 51; Lockhart, 1936, p. 13).
From this point on, Nāder Shah’s experiment in the Persian Gulf suffered by his preoccupation with more pressing problems. He was ill and subject to uncontrollable rages. His avarice and brutality ravaged the country, and rebellions spread (including one in Shiraz led by Taqi Khan). By the time Nāder Shah was murdered by his own troops in Khorasan in June 1747, most of the new ships had been lost at sea or were rotting in port, and the Persian forces in Masqat had been pushed back again to Jolfār (Floor, 1987, pp. 51–53).
In addition to his Persian Gulf enterprises, Nāder Shah had been encouraging the development of a small fleet on the Caspian in the 1740s. This was achieved by John Elton, an Englishman who had first arrived in the Caspian to open up trade with Persia through Russia. Once in Persia, Elton began building ships for Nāder Shah, and he had finished two frigates and four smaller vessels by 1745, with more under construction. Nader Shah’s unhappy experience in Daghestan in 1742 had shown him the need to secure sea transport for supplies across the Caspian Sea. Elton’s activities angered the Russian government, without whose support Elton could never have set up in Persia at all. After Nāder Shah’s death, Elton’s difficulties intensified, and he was murdered in Gilan in 1751 (Lockhart, 1936, p. 17).
The story of Nāder Shah’s Navy illustrates the expansionist, totalizing character of his regime more generally, and the ambition of his plans for his dynasty and for Iran. It was the maritime counterpart and complement to the military revolution that he began on land (Axworthy, 2007) and a necessary contribution toward his ultimate objective, which was hegemony over the central territories of the Islamic world, namely the territories of the former Safavid, Moghul, Ottoman, and Central Asian empires (Marvi, I, p. 234; Axworthy, 2006, p. 124). The fact that his plans failed, and that his immediate antecedents and successors did not share his vision, does not necessarily mean that his aims were necessarily impractical. His naval project was up against a number of major obstacles unfamiliar to him. The lack of a naval tradition and the lack of expertise in the highly technical sphere of naval warfare was a problem, perhaps surmountable; more intractable was the established, self-sufficient character of the maritime Arab culture of the Persian Gulf region, on both the northern and southern littorals, which resisted outside interference. This manifested itself as a contributory factor in the problems of mutiny and piracy, but also in the way that conquests proved ephemeral and were quickly erased by new rebellions or invasions. Finally, there was an air of amateurishness and lack of seriousness about the enterprise. This was partly because Taqi Khan was involved. He was more an accountant than a commander. But elsewhere, especially if there was a persistent problem, Nāder went to the scene of the action and intervened personally. He never visited the Persian Gulf.
- Axworthy, Michael (2007). "The Army of Nader Shah". Iranian Studies. Informa UK. 40 (5): 635–646. doi:10.1080/00210860701667720. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- Axworthy, Michael (2009). The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from tribal warrior to conquering tyrant, . I. B. Tauris
- Axworthy, Michael, "Iran: Empire of the Mind", Penguin Books, 2007. p158
- Abraham of Crete,The Chronicle of Abraham of Crete (CAC), ed. and trans., G.A. Bournoutian (Costa Mesa, 1999), 118.
- Basile Vatatzes, Persica: Histoire de Chah-Nadir, ed. N. Iorga (Bucharest, 1939), 133.
- Hanway, Jonas, An Historical Account of the British Trade, 1: 251–3
- Lockhart, Laurence, Nadir Shah: A Critical Study Based Mainly Upon Contemporary Sources, London (1938), p.88, Luzac & Co.
- Rudi Matthee, "Unwalled Cities and Restless Nomads: Firearms and Artillery in Safavid Iran" in Safavid Persia: The History and Politics of an Islamic Society , ed. Charles Melville (London, 1996)
- Von Hammer, Purgstall, J. "Histoire de l Empire Ottman (french translation by J.J. Hellert), Paris 1835-1843.
- Axworthy, Michael (2009). The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from tribal warrior to conquering tyrant. I. B. Tauris