Russo-Persian War (1804–13)

Russo Persian War (1804–1813)
Part of the Russo-Persian Wars
and the Napoleonic Wars

This painting by Franz Roubaud illustrates an episode near the Askerna river where the Russians managed to repel attacks by a larger Persian army for two weeks. They made a "living bridge", so that two cannons could be transported over their bodies.
LocationNorth Caucasus, South Caucasus, North Iran
Result Russian victory[1]
Treaty of Gulistan
Persia is forced to irrevocably cede what is now Georgia, Dagestan, most of Azerbaijan, and parts of northern Armenia to Russia.[2]
Russian Empire Russia Persia
Commanders and leaders
Russia Alexander I
Russia Ivan Gudovich
Russia Pavel Tsitsianov 
Russia Pyotr Kotlyarevsky
Russia Alexander Tormasov
Fath Ali Shah Qajar
Abbas Mirza
Javad Khan Qajar 
Alexander of Georgia
48,000 troops, 21,000 irregular cavalry 50,000 Nezam-e Jadid (modern style infantry), 20,000 irregular cavalry, 25,000 other allied or old style Persian troops

The 1804–1813 Russo-Persian War, was one of the many wars between the Persian Empire and Imperial Russia, and began like many of their wars as a territorial dispute. The new Persian king, Fath Ali Shah Qajar, wanted to consolidate the northernmost reaches of his kingdom—modern day Georgia—which had been annexed by Tsar Paul I several years after the Russo-Persian War of 1796. Like his Persian counterpart, the Tsar Alexander I was also new to the throne and equally determined to control the disputed territories.

The war ended in 1813 with the Treaty of Gulistan which irrevocably ceded the previously disputed territory of Georgia to Imperial Russia, but added the Iranian territories of Dagestan, most of what is nowadays Azerbaijan, and minor parts of Armenia to it.


Flag of Ganja Khanate captured by Tsitsianov in 1804. Museum of the History of Azerbaijan
The siege of Ganja Fortress in 1804 during the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) by the Russian forces under leadership of general Pavel Tsitsianov.

The origins of the first full scale Russo-Persian War can be traced back to the decision of Tsar Paul to annex Georgia (December 1800) after Erekle II, who had been appointed as ruler of Kartli several years earlier by his ruler Nader Shah, made a plea to Christian Russia in the Treaty of Georgievsk of 1783 to be incorporated into the empire. After Paul’s assassination (11 March 1801), the activist policy was continued by his successor, Tsar Alexander, aimed at establishing Russian control over the khanates of the eastern Caucasus. In 1803, the newly appointed commander of Russian forces in the Caucasus, Paul Tsitsianov, attacked Ganja and captured its citadel on 15 January 1804. Ganja's governor, Javad Khan Qajar, was killed, and a large number of the inhabitants slaughtered. The Qajar ruler, Fath Ali Shah, saw the Russian threat to Armenia, Karabagh, and Azerbaijan not only as a source of instability on his northwestern frontier but as a direct challenge to Qajar authority.[3]

Unequal forces

The Russians were unable to commit a large portion of their troops to the Caucasus region, because Alexander's attention was continually distracted by simultaneous wars with France, the Ottoman Empire, Sweden and Great Britain. Therefore, the Russians were forced to rely on superior technology, training, and strategy in the face of an overwhelming disparity in numbers. Some estimates put the Persian numerical advantage at five to one. Shah Fath Ali's heir, Abbas Mirza, tried to modernize the Persian army, seeking help from French experts through the Franco-Persian alliance, and then from British experts, with a mind to achieving this cause, but this merely delayed the Persian defeat.

Outbreak of war

The war began when Russian commanders Ivan Gudovich and Paul Tsitsianov attacked the Persian settlement of Echmiadzin, the most holy town in Armenia. Gudovich, unsuccessful in the siege of Echmiadzin due to a lack of troops, withdrew to Yerevan, where his siege again failed. Despite these ineffective forays, the Russians held the advantage for the majority of the war, due to superior troops and strategy. Russia's inability, however, to dedicate anything more than 10,000 troops to the campaign allowed the Persians to mount a fairly respectable resistance effort. The Persian troops were of a low grade, mostly irregular cavalry.

Holy war and Persian defeat

The Persians scaled up their efforts late in the war, declaring jihad, or holy war, on Imperial Russia in 1810; however, this was to little avail. Russia's superior technology and tactics ensured a series of strategic victories. Nor did it avail the Persians that Napoleon – who was the ally of Persia's Abbas Mirza but could provide little concrete direct help – invaded Russia itself. Even when the French were in occupation of the Russian former (and future) capital Moscow, Russian forces in the south were not recalled but continued their offensive against Persia, culminating in Pyotr Kotlyarevsky's victories at Aslanduz and Lenkoran, after the setback in the Battle of Sultanabad in 1812 and 1813 respectively. Upon the Persian surrender, the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan ceded the vast majority of the previously disputed territories to Imperial Russia. This led to the region's once-powerful khans being decimated and forced to pay homage to Russia.


Steppe Nomads
Free Mountaineers
Free Mountaineers
~1786 Tarki
1806 Quba
1806 Derbent
1806 Baku
Talysh Khanate
1805 Shaki Khanate
1805 Shirvan Khanate
1805 KarabakhKhanate
1804 Ganja Khanate
Khanate of Erevan
Nakhchivan Khanate
1800 Kartli
1800 Kakheti
1810 Imereti
1803 Mingrelia
1810 Guria
Russo-Persian War 1804-1812
Blue=Georgia from Persia (square) or Turkey (circle)
Yellow=Khanate from Persia before or early in war
Black Diamond=Persian
A=Askeran, B=Shakh-Bulakh, S=Shamkir. Shusha is the yellow dot for Karabakh Khanate
Z=Aslanduz, E=Echmiadzin, M=Meghri.

1804-1806:Capture of the Khanates: During this period Russia was mainly dealing with the local khanates which were subject to Persia. Following the bloody capture of Ganja the khans could usually be bullied without too much fighting. The main Persian army intervened twice, once successfully and once unsuccessfully. Main events were: 1804: Capture of Ganja and failure to take Yerevan. 1805: push east almost to the Caspian. 1806: death of Tsitsianov, capture of the Caspian coast and start of the Russo-Turkish War.

In late 1803 Pavel Tsitsianov demanded the submission of the Ganja Khanate southeast of Georgia, over which Georgia had some nominal claims. He was now no longer unifying Georgia or liberating Christians but moving against territory that was clearly Muslim and Persian. On 3 January 1804 [4] the town was taken with a good bit of slaughter. Abbas Mirza’s army arrived too late and retired south. In June Tsitsianov and 3000 men marched south toward Echmiadzin in the Yerevan Khanate. They were driven back by Abbas Mirza and 18000 Persians (?[5]). They then moved east and besieged Yerevan (July–September). The local khan held the citadel, the Russians held the town and the Persians held the surrounding countryside. Weakened by disease and fighting on half-rations, the Russians withdrew to Georgia, losing more men along the way.

In early 1805 the Shuragel Sultanate was taken. This was a small area at the junction of Georgia, the Yerevan Khanate and Turkey and included the militarily important town of Gyumri. On 14 May the Karabakh Khanate and on 21 May the Shaki Khanate submitted. In response to the loss of Karabakh Abbas Mirza occupied the Askeran Fortress at the mouth a valley that leads from the plain southwest to Shusha, the capital of Karabakh. The Russians responded by sending Koryagin to take the Persian fort of Shakh-Bulakh. Abbas Mirza marched north and besieged the place. On hearing of the approach of another army under Fath Ali Koryagin slipped out at night and headed for Shusha. He was caught at the Askeran gorge but not defeated. More Russian troops relieved the blockade of Koryagin and Shusha. Seeing that the main Russian force had pushed far to the southeast, Abbas Mirza made a wide swing north and besieged Ganja. On 27 July 600 Russian infantry routed his camp at Shamkir.

In September a naval attack on Baku failed. In November Tsitsianov marched east toward Baku, en route accepting the submission of the Shirvan Khanate (27 December). On 8 February 1806 he was murdered while accepting the surrender of Baku. Russian honor was retrieved by Glazenap who marched from north of the mountains and took Derbent, Quba and Baku. (Strictly Baku surrendered to Bulgakov.) Gudovich replaced Tsitsianov as Viceroy. In December Turkey declared war on Russia.

1807-1811: Relative Quiet Troops were moved west to deal with the Turks, a truce was made and Nibolshin was left to guard the frontier. Fighting resumed in 1808 when Russia took Echmiadzrin. Abbas Mirza was defeated south of Lake Shirvan and Nakhichevan, or some part of it, was occupied. In September 1808 Gudovich attacked Yerevan. The assault failed, withdrawal became necessary and 1000 men, mostly sick and wounded, froze to death on the retreat. Escape was only possible because Nibolshin and Lissanevich defeated a ‘vast horde’ of Persians. Gudovich resigned and was replaced by Alexander Tormasov. In 1809 Fath Ali was driven back from Gyumri and Abbas Mirza from Ganja. In 1810 Abbas Mirza tried to invade Karabakh but was defeated at Meghri on the Aras River.

1812-1813: Decision in the south: In early 1812 Persia invaded Karabagh. They occupied Shakhbulakh which the Russians regained. They attacked a Russian battalion at ‘Sultan-Buda’ using European-style infantry and a few British officers. After a day of fighting the Russians surrendered. Russia responded to this unusual defeat by moving Pyotr Kotlyarevsky, the hero of Akhalkalaki, from the Turkish to the Persian front. In the summer of 1812, just as Napoleon was preparing to invade, Russia made peace with Turkey and its Caucasian troops turned to Persia. On 19 October Kotlyarevsky ignored the cautious Ritishchev’s orders, crossed the Aras River, and routed the Persians at the Battle of Aslanduz. He then crossed the snow-covered Mugan Plain and after a five-day siege stormed the new-built fort of Lenkaran. The Russians lost 1000 men, two thirds of their force. Of the 4000-man garrison, every survivor was bayonetted. Kotlyarevsky was found wounded among a heap of corpses. He was carried half-dead to Tiflis and survived for 39 more years, unfit for further service. A victory at ‘Karabezouk’ completed the discomfiture of the Persians (3 April 1813). News of Napoleon’s defeat reached Persia in the spring of 1813. Peace negotiations were already underway and an armistice was made in October. By the Treaty of Gulistan Persia recognized Russian possession of all the Khanates it held and gave up all pretentions to Dagestan and Georgia. The border in the northern part of Talysh was left for later decision. Persia kept Meghri in southwest Karabakh which the Russians had abandoned as unhealthy and inaccessible from the rest of Karabakh.

Thirteen years later, in the Russo-Persian War (1826–28), Persia tried to regain its territory. It was defeated and lost the Khanates of Yerevan and Nakhichevan, roughly modern Armenia.

Anglo-French diplomacy in Persia

The Iranian Envoy Mirza Mohammed Reza-Qazvini meeting with Napoleon I at the Finckenstein Palace, 27 April 1807, to sign the Treaty of Finckenstein.

Although this Russo-Persian War was in many respects a continuation of a struggle for supremacy in Transcaucasia dating back to the time of Peter the Great and Nader Shah, it differed from earlier conflicts between Persia and Russia in that its course came to be affected as much by the diplomatic maneuvering of European powers during the Napoleonic era as by developments on the battlefield. Following the Russian occupation of the various khanates, Fath Ali Shah, strapped for cash and anxious to find an ally, had made a request for British support as early as December 1804. In 1805, however, Russia and Britain allied in the Third Coalition against France, which meant that Britain was not in a position to cultivate its Persian connection at Russian expense and felt it necessary to evade repeated requests from the shah for assistance. As the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Charles Arbuthnot, put it in August 1806,

To please the Emperor [of Russia], we have thrown away all our influence in Persia

This opened the door for France to use Persia to threaten both Russian and British interests. Hoping to forge a tripartite alliance of France, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia, Napoleon sent various envoys to Persia, notably Pierre Jaubert and Claude Mathieu de Gardane, whose diplomatic efforts culminated in the Treaty of Finckenstein, signed on 4 May 1807, under which France recognized Persian claims to Georgia and promised assistance in training and equipping the Persian army. Only two months later, however, Napoleon and Alexander I agreed to an armistice and signed the Treaty of Tilsit (7 July 1807), which effectively rendered the French commitments to Persia untenable, although the French mission did continue to provide some military assistance and tried to mediate a settlement with Russia. The French efforts failed, prompting Gudovich to resume the siege of Erevan in 1808.

Askar Khan Afshar received by Napoleon I at Saint Cloud 4 September 1808 by Benjamin Zix

The rise of French influence in Persia, viewed as the prelude to an attack on India, had greatly alarmed the British, and the Franco-Russian rapprochement at Tilsit conveniently provided an opportunity for a now isolated Britain to resume its efforts in Persia, as reflected in the subsequent missions of John Malcolm (1807–8) and Harford Jones (1809). According to the preliminary treaty of Tehran arranged by Jones (15 March 1809), Britain agreed to train and equip 16,000 Persian infantry and pay a subsidy of £100,000 should Persia be invaded by a European power, or to mediate if that power should be at peace with Great Britain. Although Russia had been making peace overtures, and Jones had hoped the preliminary agreement would encourage a settlement, these developments strengthened Fath Ali Shah ’s determination to continue the war. Anglo-Persian relations warmed even further with the visit of Abu’l-Hasan Khan to London in 1809 and his return to Persia with Gore Ouseley as ambassador and minister plenipotentiary in 1810. Under Ouseley’s auspices, the preliminary treaty was converted into the Definitive Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1812, which confirmed the earlier promises of military assistance and increased the amount of the subsidy for that purpose to £150,000 .

Then, in the third and final twist to this story, Napoleon invaded Russia in June 1812, making Russia and Britain allies once again. Britain, like France after Tilsit, was thus obliged to steer a course between antagonizing Russia and violating its commitments to Persia, with its best option being to broker a settlement of the conflict between the two. The Russians had been periodically interested in finding a negotiated settlement since the setbacks of 1805–6 and as recently as 1810, when Alexander Tormasov, who had replaced Gudovich as commander after his unsuccessful siege of Erevan, and Mirza Bozorg Qaem-magham had sought to arrange an armistice . Yet the Russians were unwilling to make serious concessions in order to end the war, and the Persians were also less than eager to settle since from their point of view the war was not going all that badly. Ouseley, however, realized the awkwardness of having Britain’s resources deployed against its Russian ally and that the situation for Persia was likely to worsen once Russia was freed from the struggle with Napoleon. He was thus receptive to Russian requests to act as an intermediary and sought ways to pressure the Qajars into accepting a settlement. He proposed revisions to the Definitive Treaty, scaled back British military involvement (leaving two officers, Charles Christie and Lindesay Bethune, and some drill sergeants with the Persian army), and threatened to withhold payment of the subsidy promised to the Qajars .

In February 1812, N. R. Ritischev assumed command of the Russian forces and opened peace negotiations with the Persians. Ouseley and his representative at the talks, James Morier, acted as intermediaries and made various proposals to Rtischev, but they were not accepted . In August, Abbas Mirza resumed hostilities and captured Lankaran. After news arrived that Napoleon had occupied Moscow, the negotiations were suspended (Ramażān 1227/September 1812). Then, on 24 Shawwal 1227/31 October 1812, while Ritischev was away in Tbilisi, the general Peter Kotliarevski launched a surprise night attack on the Persian encampment at Aslanduz, which resulted in the complete rout of the army of Abbas Mirza and the death of one of the British supporting officers (Christie). As it also became increasingly apparent that Napoleon’s offensive in Russia had failed disastrously, the Russians were emboldened to pursue a more aggressive campaign in the Caucasus. In early 1813, the Persian fortress at Lankarān fell and its garrison was annihilated, enabling the Russians to occupy most of Talesh again . Although Fath Ali Shah and Abbas Mirza wanted to fight on after these setbacks, they eventually had to yield to Ouseley, who assured the Shah that either the Russians would make territorial concessions or the British would continue the subsidy they had promised.[3]

1813: Treaty of Gulistan

Main article: Treaty of Gulistan

Assessment and aftermath

According to Prof. William Bayne Fisher (et al.):

The defeat of Napoleon enabled Russia to allocate greater resources to the Caucasus front. The difference between well-drilled, well-equipped, disciplined armies and the tribal levies of Abbas Mirza was decisive. At Aslanduz on the Aras 2,260 Russians under General P.S. Kotlyarevsky fought a two-day battle with 30,000 Persians under Abbas Mirza, killing 1,200 enemy soldiers, and capturing 537 at a loss to themselves of only 127 dead and wounded. Though on occasion the Persians fought well, for instance at Lankaran, where the same Kotlyarevsky lost 950 of 1,500 men under his command and was himself permanently disabled, the war was obviously lost.[6]

See also


  1. Goldstein, Erik (1992). Wars and Peace Treaties: 1816 to 1991. London: Routledge. p. 67. ISBN 0-415-07822-9.
  2. Dowling, Timothy C. (2014). Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio. pp. 728–29. ISBN 1-59884-948-4.
  3. 1 2 Daniel, Elton L. "Golestān Treaty". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  4. All dates old style so add 12 days for the Western calendar
  5. following Atkin, page 120. The Russian Wiki has Tsitsianov go directly to Yerevan and an army under Portnyagin retreat from Echmiadzran on 19Jun
  6. Fisher et al. 1991, pp. 334.


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