Brief History of Iran
Iran, meaning the “country of the Aryans”, is situated in southwestern Asia, between the Persian Gulf in the South and the Caspian Sea in the North, and having common borders with seven neighboring countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia in the north, and Turkey and Iraq in the west. Iran is a mountainous arid country, consisting mainly of a central desert plateau 1,500 feet (463 meters) above sea level, surrounded by lofty mountains, some as high as 10,000 feet (3,000 meters)
History from 3,000 BC to 331 BC
Achaemenes and Cyrus the Great.
Iran is a country that has a history and civilization that dates back to 3,000 BC. The earliest civilization of Iran, the civilization of Elam centered at Khuzestan has a written history dating back to 3,000 BC. The history of the Aryan tribes of Iran, the Medes and the Persians dates back to 1,500 year BC, when the Aryans first settled in the central plateau. The Medes settled in the northwestern region of the plateau and the Persians in the southern region. The warrior chief Achaemenes who lived around 681 BC, is recognized as the first prominent leader of the Persians. The rulers of Medes later dominated the Persians, until in 550 BC, the Persian King Cyrus the Great overthrew the Medean rulers. Cyrus the Great captured the kingdoms of Lydia (546 BC) and Babylonia (539 BC), and made the Persian Empire the most powerful empire in the world. Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses II, who further extended the empire by capturing Egypt in 525 BC. Darius the Great, who became King in 522 BC, expanded the Persian borders eastwards up to the Indus river. Darius successfully suppressed a revolt by Ionian Greeks between 499 and 494 BC, but was not so successful against the European Greeks. Xerxes I, son of Darius who tried to suppress the Greeks also failed. Artaxerxes I, who succeeded Xerxes I, successfully suppressed a revolt by the Egyptians in 446 BC. More revolts followed and finally between 334 and 331 BC, Alexander the Great, defeated the troops of Darius III, and annexed the Persian Empire to his kingdom.
History from 331 BC to 224 AD
Alexander the Great, Seleucid empire and Parthian empire.
Alexander the Great recruited large numbers of Persians into his armies, and by encouraging higher officers in his army who were Macedonians to take Iranian wives he sought a greater integration of the Iranians into his vast kingdom. Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, there was a power struggle between his close generals to ascend the Persian throne, and eventually Seleucus I succeeded to the throne. Seleucus I, was successful in re-capturing most of the former territories of the Persian Empire, which included the Babylonian kingdom, Syria, Anatolia (Asia Minor) and lands as far as the Indus river. He founded the great Seleucid dynasty that ruled Persia up to the 2nd century BC. The Seleucid empire was overthrown by the Parthian empire which was founded by Arsaces, in 247 BC, and ruled for four centuries until 224 AD.
History from 224 AD to 642 AD.
Sassanid empire, Khosrau I and Khosrau II.
In 224 AD, Ardashir I a prince from Fars the cradle of the Archaemenids defeated the last king of the Parthians Artabanus V, and founded the dynasty known as the Sassanids. Ardashir conquered Armenia and several smaller neighboring kingdoms. He also invaded India, and levied heavy tribute from the rulers of Punjab. Ardashir’s greatest achievement is considered to be the establishment of Zoroastrianism as the state religion of Iran. Shapur I succeeded Ardashir in 241 AD, and is credited with conquering territories from the Roman empire, that included Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia after waging two successive wars with the Romans. Yazdegerd I who reigned from 399 t0 420 AD, became notorious for the ruthless persecution of Persian Christians, a policy that was continued by his son Bahram V, until he was defeated by the Romans in 422 AD after declaring war on them in 420 AD. In a peace treaty that followed with the Romans mutual protection was assured for Zoroastrians living on the Roman side and the Christians living in Persia.
In the 5th and 6th centuries Persia came under repeated attacks by the Hephthalites, a group of barbaric and primitive people who originated in the region north of the Great Wall in China. The Persian King Firuz fell in battle against them in 483 AD, and the wealth of the country was plundered and the country devastated. Firuz’s son Kavadh who succeeded to the throne was later deposed by his brother in 496 AD, but was later restored with the help of the Hephthalites in 499 AD. Kavadh restored peace and order in the land, and moved away from the orthodox Zoroastrian church, and embraced the teachings of Mazdak, a Zoroastrian high priest, that was popular among the people. However in 528 AD towards the end of his rule, under pressure from his son and crown prince Khosrau I, who was an ortodox Zoroastrian, he withdrew support to Mazdak and caused a great massacre of Mazdak followers. Khosrau I (531 to 579 AD) who was the most powerful of Sassanid kings extended his territory up to the Black Sea and the Caucasus, after two wars with the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. He earned a reputation as an enlightened and just ruler, and restored Zoroastrianism as the state religion. He reformed the administration of the empire and introduced a more equitable tax system.
Khosrau II, also known as Parviz, the grandson of Khosrau I ruled between 590 to 628 AD. During his reign the Sassanid empire achieved unprecedented splendor and material wealth. Khosrau II invaded Byzantium when his friend Emperor Maurice who helped him regain the Persian throne previously, was assassinated, and conquered Anatolia, Syria, Jerusalem and later Egypt. The new emperor of Byzantine Heraclius reorganized the army and led a campaign against the Persians, that saw them defeated and driven back to their original borders. The grandson of Khosrau II, Yazdegerd III (632-651 AD) was the the last of the Sassanid Kings, during whose reign the Arab Muslims invaded and conquered Persia, in 640 AD.
History from 640 AD to 1220 AD
The rightly guided caliphs, the Umayyads and the Abbasids.
The invasion of Iran by Arab Muslims began in 636 AD, during the reign of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Khalifat Rasul Allah (deputy or successor of the Prophet of God), also known as the Caliph. During his reign the Islamic State with its capital at Medina, was transformed from an Arabian principality into a world power. Umar was universally respected for his justice and authority, and was responsible for setting down the guidelines of administering the future Islamic State, in accordance with the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and the Hadith, the traditions of the Prophet.
The conquest of Iran was completed in 642 AD and during the next two centuries Iran was part of the Arab Islamic empire, ruled successively from Medina, Kufah, Damascus and Baghdad. Medina was the seat of the caliphate of the first three rightly guided caliphs, from 632 AD to 656 AD. After the death of Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph, Ali ibn Abu Talib, the fourth and the last rightly guided caliphs, shifted the seat of the caliphate to Kufah, in Iraq. After Ali’s death in 661, the seat of the caliphate was shifted to Damascus, in Syria, by Abu Sufyan the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, which lasted until 750 AD. After the overthrow of the Umayyad caliphate by the Abbasids, the seat of the caliphate was shifted to Baghdad, in Iraq in 750, and remained so until until 1258 when the dynasty fell during the Mongol invasion. However, by the end of the 9th century, the Caliph in Baghdad, began losing control of eastern parts of Iran, where independent kingdoms arose, and eventually by mid- 11th century had lost effective control of the whole of Iran, although in matters of religion his authority was still recognized. What in effect took place was a separation of powers in which the Sultans or Emirs exercised secular authority and the Caliph exercised only religious authority. The separation of powers between the church and the state in the western world took place several centuries later in the 14th century. The rulers of the independent dynasties of Iran that followed (821-1220 AD) such as the Saffarids, the Samanids, the Ghaznavids, the Buyids, the Seljuk Turks, and the Khwarezm Shahs all exercised secular authority, while still recognizing the religious authority of the Caliph. In fact Al-Ghazzali the renowned Muslim theologian, philosopher, teacher and mystic of the 11th century, who was greatly respected in the courts of the Seljuq Sultans, also lent his support to the concept of separation of religious and secular authority, and was of the view that this would help the Caliph to devote more time to the religious needs of his subjects.
With the Arab conquest of Iran, the people of Iran gradually abandoned their traditional religion Zoroastrianism, and accepted Islam as their new creed. But the majority of Iranians were adherents of the orthodox Sunni form of Islam. Only a few followers belonged to the Shia sect of Islam. The integration of the ancient Iranian civilization with the rich Arab Islamic culture and civilization resulted in the synthesis of a unique civilization that turned out to be one of the greatest in the history of mankind.
History from 1220 AD to 1501
The Mongol invasion of Iran, Genghis Khan. The Timurids, Tamerlane.
The darkest chapter in the long history of Iran was the invasion of the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan in 1220, which proved to be disastrous for Iran. The Mongols destroyed major cities and centers of learning such as Ray, Tus, Nishapur, Hamadan, Ardabil, Marageh, Qazvin, and slaughtered its inhabitants for offering resistance. Some of these cities were never rebuilt. They destroyed irrigation networks and croplands in Khorasan and Mazendaran causing large scale devastation. The harsh rule of the Mongols that caused serious economic decline and suffering in the country, ended only in 1295 when the Mongol ruler Ghazan Khan converted to Islam, and restored Islam as the State religion. He immediately embarked on a program of reconstruction and restored agriculture to its former glory, by repairing old irrigation schemes and constructing new ones, and bringing wasteland into cultivation. In the 13th and early 14th centuries, cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz which had escaped destruction during the Mongol invasion, emerged as the new centers of cultural development.
In 1380 Timur also known as Tamerlane, the mighty conqueror of central Asia, with his capital based in Samarkand invaded Iran and captured it. In the period between 1381 and 1405, Timur’s armies ruthlessly suppressed revolts that broke out all over the country, and in the process destroyed more cities and massacred entire populations thereby reversing the progress and development achieved under Ghazan Khan.
History from 1501 to 1722
The Safavid Dynasty, Ismail I, Abbas I, Sultan Hussain.
After Timur’s son Shah Rokh, who reigned between 1405 and 1447 various parts of Iran came under the rule of different Turkmen families and tribes. Among them was Sheik Hyder who led the Safavid movement that had begun as a Sufi order under his ancestor Sheik Safi al-Din of Ardabil (1253-1334). In 1501 Ismail I, son of Sheik Hyder conquered Tabriz and proclaimed himself the Shah, and within a decade was able to gain supremacy over the whole of Iran. He was successful in unifying the whole of Iran as an independent state since the 7th century. Ismail embraced Jafari Shia Islam, and established it as the state religion of Iran. He then began a mass conversion of the largely Sunni population to Jafari Shia Islam, who are also known as the Ithna Ashariya or the twelvers, who believed that there were twelve spiritual successors to the Prophet Muhammad, starting with Ali ibn Abu Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet, and the 4th caliph of Islam.
Ismail I succeeded in mobilizing an army against the Ottoman Sunni Muslims, who controlled a vast empire to the west. In 1509 he led an army against the Ottomans and was able to capture Baghdad and the fertile plains of Iraq. However after Ismail’s death in 1524, Baghdad fell into the hands of the Ottomans again in 1534, under the leadership of Sultan Suleyman I. Intermittent warfare between the Safavids and Ottoman empire continued for more than 150 years. Under Abbas I who reigned between 1588 and 1629, the Safavids were able to re-capture Baghdad in 1623, and hold it for another 15 years, before the Ottomans gained permanent control of Baghdad in 1638, under the treaty of Qasr-e-Shirin, which gave Yerevan in southern Caucasus to Iran and Baghdad and all of Mesopotomaia (Iraq) to the Ottomans. During his rule, Abbas I also shifted his capital from Qazvin, to the more centrally located city of Esfahan, for control over the whole country and for easy accessibility to the trade outlets of the Persian Gulf. Abbas developed the city of Esfahan as a modern capital city, with palaces, mosques, schools and bridges, most of which still stand today as the best preserved examples of Islamic architecture in the world. He also developed trade ties with the west, a vast market for Iranian carpets, silks and textiles.
After Abbas II who died in 1666, the Safavid empire gradually declined, attributed to the lavish lifestyles of the Shahs who followed, which necessitated the imposition of heavy taxes on people and businesses, that in turn led to a decline in investment, and bred corruption amongst the government officials. During the reign of Shah Sultan Hussain (1694-1722), in 1709, Mir Vays Khan, a leader of the Afghan Hotaki Ghilzay tribe, led a successful rebellion against Gorgin Khan, the Persian governor of Kandahar. After Vays Khan’s death in 1715, his young and ambitious son Mahmud took control of Kandahar. Mahmud was very ambitious and was not content with holding Kandahar only. He built up an army of 20,000 men, and in 1722 invaded Iran and besieged the capital Esfahan. After a six-month siege the Safavid government of Shah Sultan Hussain surrendered. Shah Hussain was captured by the Afghan army and executed, thus ending the Safavid rule of Iran. The Afghan soldiers plundered the wealth of Esfahan, including the crown jewels of the former Shahs of the Safavid and other dynasties.
History from 1722 to 1747
After Sultan Hussain, his son Tahmasp II was seeking to regain the throne lost to the Afghans in 1722. In 1726, Nadir Qoli Beg, belonging to the Turkish Afshar tribe and based in Mashhad, offered to help Tahmasp II. Nadir trained an army of 5,000 followers, and moved against the Afghans and defeated them at Damghan in October 1729, and drove them out of Persia. He then restored Tahmasp II, to the Iranian throne. He then moved against the Ottoman Turks who had occupied the former Iranian territories of Azerbaijan and Iraq, and drove them out of these territories. Subsequently, while Nadir was away in Khorasan trying to quell an uprising, Tahmasp had rashly attacked the Turks again, and was forced to conclude peace on shameful and disadvantageous terms. Angry at Tahmasp’s behaviour, Nadir Shah rushed back to Esfahan, deposed Tahmasp and installed his infant son, Abbas III on the throne, and declared himself regent.
Nadir then drove the Turks completely out of Iran. He then threatened the Russians with war, and forced them surrender the Caspian provinces to Iran. In 1732 he laid siege to Herat and captured it. During this campaign Nadir recruited many Heratis to his army, as he was impressed by their courage.
Nadir also realized the importance of Iran having its own navy, and in 1734 started building up the navy. In 1735, his navy had attacked and captured Bahrain and Oman.In 1736, Nadir deposed the young Abbas III, and installed himself on the throne of Iran as Nadir Shah
In 1738, Nadir Shah captured Kandahar after 80,000 of his men laid siege to the city for almost one year. Later his army went on to capture Ghazna and Kabul. In February 1739, Nadir Shah turned eastwards and moved against the Mogul empire of northern India. After capturing several cities he fought and defeated the main army of the Moguls at Karnal and took the emperor Muhammad Shah prisoner, and subsequently entered Delhi and Agra. Eventually when Nadir Shah’s forces left Delhi in May 1739, he carried away a booty that was estimated at 700 million rupees, and included the famous peacock throne of Shah Jahaan, and other famous diamonds like the Koh-i-Noor, the Darya-i-Noor, and the Nur-ul-Ain.
Nadir Shah then attacked the Uzbek cities of Bukhara and Khiva. He then attacked the Turks again and won a great victory over them near Yervan. Nadir Shah was one of the most brilliant and successful soldiers in the history of Iran, and the extent of his empire was almost equal to the extent of the ancient Iranian empires. Even though successful as a soldier Nadir Shah failed as a statesman and administrator, and the country became tired of his never ending military campaigns, and his ruthless and harsh rule. Eventually Nadir Shah was assassinated by his own troops in 1747, and the vast empire he created disintegrated, into several smaller kingdoms. Iran itself split into three separate states or kingdoms.
History from 1747 to 1796
One State was the Afsharid state based in Khorasan with the capital at Mashhad, and headed by Nadir Shah’s blind grandson Shah Rukh who ruled from 1748 to 1795. The second state was based at Mazanderan and was headed by Qajar chief Muhammad Hassan Khan Qajar. The third state was based in central and southern Iran with its capital at Shiraz, and headed by Muhammad Karim Khan Zand, of the Zand dynasty. Karim Khan’s state was the most successful of the three states, in terms of peace, popular contentment and economic prosperity. When Karim Khan died in 1779, Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar began a war of conquest in the south, having assembled a large force in Mazendaran. He defeated Lotf Ali Khan in 1794, and captured the Zand territory. In 1796 Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar assumed the title Shahanshah (king of kings). In the same year he attacked the Afsharid state based in Khorasan, and captured Mashhad the capital and took Shah Rukh prisoner.
History from 1796 to 1896
The Qajar dynasty, Fath Ali Shah, Nasser-ed-Din Shah.
The Qajar dynasty was founded in 1796 by Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar when he assumed the imperial diadem as Shahansha. But within one year of his assuming the title, Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar was assassinated by his own servants while on an expedition to Georgia, in 1797. Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar was succeeded by his nephew Fath Ali Shah who reigned between 1797 and 1834. Fath Ali was defeated by the Russians in two wars, and lost control over the Iranian territories of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. During his reign there was increased diplomatic contacts with the west. Rivalries also started between European nations over Iran, during this period, trying to gain spheres of Influence in the country. Fath Ali was succeeded by his grandson Muhammad Shah who ruled from 1834 to 1848. The Russians gained a lot of influence in the country during the reign of Muhammad Shah.
Muhammad Shah was succeeded by his son Nasser-ed-Din Shah who reigned between 1848 to 1896, and is considered to be the most successful of the Qajar rulers. Nasser-ed-Din Shah was impressed by the developments achieved by the west in Science and Technology and visited Europe on three different occasions. He began the modernization of Iran based on the European model, and introduced western science and technology and educational methods into the country.
History from 1896 to 1925
Experiment with democracy, the Constitutional Revolution and the National Consultative Assembly
Nasser-ed-Din was succeeded by his son Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah (1896-1907), during whose reign the constitutional revolution of 1906, saw the birth of a constitution that curtailed the powers of the monarch and set up a national consultative assembly. Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah was succeeded by his son Muhammad Ali Shah, who ruled for a short period of only two years and was ousted in 1909, in trying to suppress the national consultative assembly granted by his predecessor and regain lost authority. Muhammad Ali Shah’s son Ahmad Shah was then placed on the throne of Iran at the tender age of eleven years. During this period of turmoil in Iran the Russians and the British had carved out their own spheres of influence in Iran, but the Russians effectively ruled Iran, until the outbreak of World War I. With the outbreak of war the Russians withdrew their forces, much to the relief of the Iranian population but soon the country became a battle ground for the opposing forces the British and the Russians on one side and the Germans and the Turks on the other. Following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the end of the war, the Russians withdrew completely from Iran, leaving only Britain as the foreign occupying power, and in 1921 Britain also withdrew their forces following strong international pressure. But during the same year the British gave their tacit approval to a coup organized by an officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade Reza Khan, who after serving under Ahmad Shah as prime minister later deposed him in 1925, and took power as the absolute ruler of Iran. Reza Khan ascending the throne as Reza Shah Pahlavi, signified the end of the Qajar dynasty and the beginning of a new dynasty the Pahlavi dynasty. It also marked the end of the experiment with democracy initiated in 1906.
History from 1925 to 1979
The Pahlavi dynasty, second experiment with democracy.
Reza Shah Pahlavi introduced educational and judicial reforms, and re-negotiated the oil concessions with the western countries. His suspicions of the British and the Russians moved him closer to the Germans, which resulted in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of the country in 1941 under the pretext of ensuring the safe passage of U.S. weapons to the Soviet Union through Iran. Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced to abdicate in favor of his young son Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi.
After the war in 1951 a coalition of political parties consisting of nationalists, clerics and non-communist left wing parties known as the National Front was elected to power under the leadership of Mohammed Moussadeq, a lawyer and career politician. One of the first acts of the new prime minister upon assuming office was the nationalization of the oil industry. Britain and the United States who were hardest hit by Moussadeq’s move, decided to oust him by organizing a joint coup. In the meantime the power struggle between Moussadeq and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi intensified and came to a head, and the Shah fled the country. Almost simultaneously the C. I. A. engineered coup against Moussadeq succeeded and his elected government was ousted, ending the second experiment with democracy. Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi returned to the country barely one week after his departure and appointed a new prime minister. He then moved immediately to consolidate his position as the absolute monarch of Iran.
Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi
The Shah’s first official act after being restored to power was the immediate reversal of the nationalization policy initiated by Mohammed Moussadeq, in order to placate his international backers who helped him to regain his throne. He then embarked on an ambitious program to develop his country known as the “White Revolution” with the support of his backers. The salient features of this program include the following :-
1. Expansion and modernization of road, rail and air networks.
2. The construction of dams and other irrigation projects.
3. Modernization of the health care and prevention systems.
4. Eradication of communicable diseases like Malaria.
5. Providing incentives and support for industrial growth.
6. Introduction of land reforms re-distributing land from a few landlords, among 2.5 million landless families.
7. Introducing the concept of profit sharing among workers and farmers in the industrial and agricultural sectors respectively.
8. The setting up of agricultural co-operatives to grant funds for irrigation, agrarian maintenance, and development.
9. Creation of a “Health Corps” and “Literacy Corps” to serve the rural population of Iran.
10. Emancipation and enfranchisement of women.
Reza Shah Pahlavi drew considerable public support for his “White Revolution” program, but there were also certain negative aspects in his rule which set the seeds of dissension that eventually made him very unpopular and led to his overthrow in 1979. Some of these negative aspects were :-
1. The autocratic style of government that silenced and marginalized political parties that opposed the monarchy.
2. Widespread corruption among government officials.
3. Unequal distribution of oil wealth.
4. Forced westernization of sections of the population, and discouraging them form adhering to traditional cultural values.
5. The activities of Savak, the Shah’s secret police in suppressing dissent and opposition to his rule.
6. Antagonizing the clergy by adopting measures that went against the tenets of Islam, and restricted the authority of the clergy.
7. Suppression of intellectuals and students.
The Iranian Islamic revolution
The exiled dissident Ayatullah Ruhullah Musawi Khomeini became the rallying point for all the forces opposed to the rule of the Shah, including the intellectuals, the students, the clergy, the traders and merchants, and the poorer classes of the society. Revolution broke out in 1978 and there was unrest and turmoil all over the country, which brought down four successive governments. Finally in January 1979, the Shah and his family left the country, and was granted asylum in Egypt, where he died the following year of cancer. Following the triumphant return of Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini to Teheran from Paris, a referendum was held and on April 1st,1979, and Iran was declared as the Islamic Republic of Iran.
History of the Iranian Crown Jewels
The Museum of The Treasury of National Iranian Jewels, situated at the Ferdowsi Avenue, Teheran, Iran, contains one of the world’s largest, dazzling and most precious collection of jewels, consisting of pieces that may perhaps be as old as the ancient Iranian monarchies that existed 2,500 years ago. The royal courts of the kings of the Sassanid empire who ruled between 224 AD and 642 AD were famous for their splendor and material wealth. During the period of Khosrau Parviz, the grandson of Khosrau I, who reigned between 590 to 628 AD, the Sassanid empire attained its greatest heights in terms of material wealth, having expanded the empire to include territories such as Anatolia, Syria, Jerusalem and Egypt. The courts of Khosrau Parviz became internationally famous for its priceless possessions and other valuable treasures that included jewels and jewelry.
Most of the items in the National Iranian Jewels were acquired by the Shahs of the Safavid dynasty who ruled between 1501 and 1722 AD. The first Shah of the Safavid dynasty, Shah Ismail I, was successful in unifying the whole of Iran as an independent country since the 7th century AD. The 221 year period of Safavid rule was a period of relative stability and prosperity, that led to the compilation of a priceless treasury of gems and jewelry. The outstanding ruler of the Safavid dynasty was Abbas I, whose 41-year rule between 1588 and 1629, saw the construction of a new capital city at Esfahan, with palaces, mosques, schools and bridges, most of which still stand today and are renowned for their unique Islamic architecture. Abbas developed trade ties with the west and the country became rich and prosperous during his rule. According to John Baptist Tavernier, and other western travelers to the east the Safavid court had a priceless collection of jewels and jewelry, and they took maximum care in inventorying and preserving the collection, which at that time was already renowned as one of the world’s most prestigious and largest jewelry collections.
The origin of the jewels and jewelry of this vast and impressive collection, that was preserved in the Safavid treasury could be categorized as follows :-
1. Jewels and jewelry that were inherited from previous rulers.
2. Gifts sent in by foreign kings and local rulers, such as governors of the provinces.
3. War booties acquired after foreign conquests.
4. Items purchased from jewelry dealers such as John Baptiste Tavernier, Knight Chardin and others.
5. Gifts brought in by the emissaries of the Safavid kings to the Ottoman empire, European countries and India.
6. Gems extracted from the mines at Khorasan and Turkestan.
7. Mothers-of-Pearl caught in the Persian Gulf.
In 1722, the young and ambitious Afghan ruler of Kandahar, Mahmud, having built up an army of 20,000 men invaded Iran, and besieged the capital Esfahan for six months, and finally conquered it. Shah Sultan Hussain was captured and executed. The Afghan army plundered the city and carried away the vast collection of jewels and jewelry belonging to the Safavid treasury. Most of these jewels eventually ended up in the court of the Mogul rulers of North India, in Delhi and Agra, sold by the Afghan looters of the Safavid treasures. Shah Mahmud died in 1725 and was succeeded by Shah Ashraff, who successfully halted the Russian advance on Iran from the north and the Turkish onslaught from the west. However in October 1729 Nadir Qoli Beg led a force of 5,000 followers on behalf of Thamasp II who was seeking to regain his father’s throne, and defeated Ashraff’s forces at Damghan, and drove the Afghans out of Persia. Nadir was able to regain some of the jewelry stolen from the Safavid treasury, that was in Ashraff’s possession.
Nadir, after successfully driving all foreign forces out and uniting the whole country diverted his attention towards expansion of the Iranian kingdom by conquest of foreign lands. By the time he installed himself as the Shah of Iran under the name Nadir Shah, in 1736, he had already conquered Azerbaijan, Iraq, the Caspian provinces of the Russian empire, Oman, Bahrain, and the Afghan province of Herat. Then his attention was diverted towards other provinces of Afghanistan and the Indian sub-continent. According to some historians Nadir Shah’s Indian Campaign was mainly motivated by the need for money to make his kingdom financially viable. The booty he carried away after capturing the Mogul capitals of Delhi and Agra included several heavily jewel encrusted thrones, large chests filled with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. Among the famous diamonds included in booty were the Koh-i-Noor, the Darya-i-Noor, the Nur-ul-Ain, the Agra, the Orlov, the Shah, the Shah Jahaan, and the Taj-i-Mah diamonds. According to some other historians Nadir Shah’s invasion of Delhi and Agra was prompted by the refusal of the Mogul emperor of the time to return the jewelry stolen from the Safavid treasury during the Afghan invasion of Esfahan in 1722, which was eventually sold to the Mogul court by the looters. Given the fact that Nadir Shah singled out the seat of the Mogul empire for this treatment, when at that time he could have done the same with the seats of the Ottoman or Russian empires, having the most powerful army in the region at that time, gives credence to the second version.
After returning from his successful Indian campaign Nadir Shah presented some of the jewelry to the rulers of the neighboring kingdoms, which included Sultan Mahmud the Ottoman emperor, Queen Elizabeth of Russia, and Abul Faiz Khan, the ruler of Bukhara in Uzbekistan. He also donated some of the jewels to the holy shrine of the eighth Imam of the Shi’ite Muslims, Imam Reza, and is said to have distributed some among his soldiers.
After Nadir Shah’s assassination by his own troops in 1747, the Iranian treasury was looted by the commanders of the army who were close to him. This included the commander of his Afghan bodyguard Ahmad Khan Abddali who carried away several valuable pieces of jewels and jewelry that included the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond. Others who laid their hands upon at least part of the jewels were Shah Rukh, Nadir Shah’s own blind grandson, the Qajar chief Mohammed Hassan Khan Qajar, and Mohammed Karim Khan Zand. Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar who eventually re-united the whole country, took a lot of pains in re-assembling the treasures of the Afsharid treasury and his nephew and successor Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834), continued to protect and expand the collection in the royal treasury. Fath Ali Shah is said to have adorned himself with many items of this collection during his court appearances. It was under Fath Ali Shah’s orders the famous Naderi bed, the Takhte Tavoos bed and the Kiani Crown were constructed.
Nasser-ed-Din Shah (1848-96) also expanded the collection further. He purchased 48 pieces of yellow diamonds of varying sizes and of South African origin during his several visits to Europe. In fact Nasser-ed-Din Shah is credited to be the first monarch in the world to have purchased such a lot of yellow diamonds, giving a boost to the image of these diamonds, which were then considered to be sub-standard and worthless. This act of Nasser-ed-Din Shah also helped in boosting the sale of South African diamonds, the majority of which were yellow and brown diamonds, known as the Cape Series. The gem-studded globe is considered to be another piece designed and constructed during his period.
The Qajar Shah, Muhammad Ali Shah (1907-1909) in his attempt to suppress the National Consultative Assembly granted by his predecessor Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah, after the constitutional revolution of 1906, was defeated and forced to seek refuge in the Russian Legation. He carried with him most of the Iranian Crown Jewels, and claimed that the jewels were his personal property. However after representations were made to the Russian Government by members of the National Consultative Assembly, the Iranian Crown jewels were restored back to Iran.
Reza Shah Pahlavi the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty transferred the royal treasury to the National Bank of Iran, after a law passed by the Iranian Parliament in November 1937, in order to act as a reserve to back up the local currency. During the reign of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the jewels of the royal treasury were transferred to the newly established Central Bank of Iran, in 1960, and put on display at the vaults of the Bank. He also decreed that the jewels would be the property of the Iranian State and not the Imperial family. After the Islamic revolution of 1979, the Iranian Crown Jewels still remain in the treasury of the Central Bank, and has been named the Treasury of National Iranian Jewels.
The National Iranian Jewels can be classified into the following categories :-
Click on item for details :-
1. Encyclopaedia Britannica – 2006
2. Encarta Premium – 2006
3. Website of Iran Chamber Society
4. Wikipedia – Iranian Crown Jewels
5. The Legacy of Persia – A. J. Arberry (1968)
6. A History of Persia – Percy Sykes (1969)