This page is all Qajar Iran (1795-1925): the shahs, the territory and some other goodies plus link to Constitutional Revolution page, enjoy:

(Prepared by Maziar Behrooz-work in progress)



Shams al-Emareh (the Sun ) palace in Golestan complex in Tehran

Read more on Qajar dynasty by visiting its official site:

Qajar shahs of Iran (seven of them ruled):
Agha Mohammad Khan  1794 - 1797
(Mohammad Shah I)
Fath'Ali Shah  1797 - 1834
Mohammad Shah II 1834 - 1848
Naser o-Din Shah 1848 - 1896
Mozaffar o-Din Shah  1896 - 1907
Mohammed Ali Shah 1907 - 1909
Sultan Ahmed Shah 1909 - 1925










Empire of Amir Timur Gorkan


The Qajars were a Turkic tribe originally form Central Asia.  The tribe participated in the conquests of Timur-e Lang  or Amir Timur Gorkan (Tamerlane) where the first mention of the the tribe is made.  Timur was a world conqueror who established a shot lived world empire between 1370s and 1405 (map below).

The Qajar tribe eventually settled in what is today eastern Anatolia and Caucasus (north of river Aras) and with unification of Iran under the Safavi dynasty (1501-1722) converted to Shi'a Islam and became a Qizilbash tribe.  the Qizilbash tribes were the adherents of the Safavis who were a dynasty and a Sufi brotherhood at the same time.  Hence the Qizilbash were the devoted enforces of early Safavis and the empire's main military force until early 1600s and Iran's main class of land grant holders.  In this context, the Qajars held ancestral lands in what is today Iran's Azerbaijan and Caucasus  (today the Republic of Azarbaijan which back then, and until early the 1800s, was considered part of any Iran based state).  
Shah Abbas I (r.1588-1629) was the Safavi king who replaced the power of the Qizilbash with a standing army equipped with gun-powder weapons.  To curtail the power of the Qizilbash, among other measures, he dispersed them.
In 1600s Shah Abbas divided the Qajar tribe in to three branches of the Caucasus, Astarabad (southern Caspian Sea region), and north eastern Khorasan.  Only the Astarabad branch remained to modern days and provided the new dynasty by the late 1800s.-------->>


The Astarabad branch was divided into Yukharibash (up) and Ashaqabash (down) according to their position along the Gorgan river; each tribe was divided into various clans: Quyunlu, Develu, Izz al-Dinlu, Ziyadlu.  The Quyunlu of the Ashaqabash tribe provided the males of the ruling dynasty.
In 1779,  following the death of Mohammad Karim Khan Zand, ruler of southern Iran,  Agha Mohammad Khan (1742-1797), a leader of the Qajar tribe, set out to reunify Iran. Agha Mohammad Khan defeated numerous rivals and brought all of Iran under his rule, establishing the Qajar dynasty.

Read more on Qajar genealogy:


By 1794 he had eliminated all his rivals, including Lotf 'Ali Khan, the last of the Zand dynasty, and had reasserted Iranian sovereignty over the former Iranian territories in Georgia and the Caucasus. Agha Mohammad established his capital at Tehran, a village near the ruins of the ancient city of Ray (now Shahr-e Rey). In 1796 he was formally crowned as Mohammad Shah I but  was assassinated in 1797.  As a castrated man, he did not have a male heir and chose the son of his late younger brother, Hosein Qoli Khan  Jahansuz (1745-1777 ) as successor.
Baba Khan Jahanbani  (1771-1834) was crowned as Fath Ali Shah (r.1897-1834).   Agha Mohammad Khan (later Mohammad Shah I) the founder of Qajar dynasty and re-unifier of Iran.  He was an able,  yet  brutal, military leader and king.  Note, the crown he used was the original Kiani crow kept in Tehran today.

Iran's re-unification under the Qajar tribe justbefore the 19th century.

Mohammad Shah I (r. 1796-1797)

Read more on Aqa Muhammad Khan (Shah):








Fath Ali Shah (r.1797 - 1834):
Under Fath Ali Shah, Iran went to war against Russia, which was expanding from the north into the Caucasus Mountains, an area of historic Iranian interest and influence. Iran suffered major military defeats during the war. Under the terms of the Treaty of Golestan in 1813, Iran recognized Russia's annexation of Georgia and ceded to Russia most of the north Caucasus region. A second war with Russia in the 1820s ended even more disastrously for Iran, which in 1828 was forced to sign the Treaty of Turkmanchai acknowledging Russian sovereignty over the entire area north of the Aras River (territory comprising present-day Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan).

Fath ALi Shah Qajar (r.1797-1834).  The third painting shows him in full royal attire with the Kiani crown.

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The Second Kiani crown commissioned by Fath  Ali Shah became the standard Qajar crown, it is kept in Tehran.


1797-1834 After a brief civil war, Muhammad Shah's nephew (son of Jahansuz Khan) Fath Ali Khan (Khan Baba Jahanbani) became shah; he had 800 wives and concubines, 158 of them gave birth to 57 sons and 46 daughters leading to 296 grandsons and 292 granddaughters.

The Peacock Throne (Takht-e Tavus) has a misleading history.  Europeans began to identify Iranian monarchy with the
throne beginning in the 19th century.  However, the real Peacock Throne which was looted from India by Nader Shah
Afshar (1746) was destroyed after his assassination in 1747.  The present throne was commissioned by Fath Ali Shah
and built by Isfahani craftsmen.  Its original name was the Sun Throne (Takht-e Khorshid). A sun may be seen at  the
upper back of the throne.  But it was renamed "peacock" after Tavus Khanum, Fath Ali Shah's favorite wife.  The
throne was never really used in coronation ceremonies as Iranian shahs usually used the Naderi Throne (Takht-e
 Naderi) which
was also commissioned by Fath Ali Shah (right)


Iran-Russian border change from 1801 to 1828

 1801 Georgia attacked and annexed by Russia under Tzar Alexander I; Capt. john Malcom's mission to Iran and defence treaty with England.
1804-1813 First Russo-Iranian war. 
1807 Franco-Iranian alliance and treaty of Finkenstein. General Gardane's military mission to Iran; Russo-French peace treaty of Tilsit resulting in withdrawal of Gardane mission.
1809 second Anglo-Iranian alliance; Iran's ties to France ended; GB to provide military and financial aid if Iran attacked by a European power.
1813  After defeat at Aslanduz, Abbas Mirza's army was routed by the Russians.  The result was Treaty of Golestan and the loss of Khanates of: Georgia; Daghistan (Darband); Ganjeh; Shiravan; Shaki; Baku; Qarabagh.
1813-1825 Military reforms under Crown Prince Abbas Mirza governor of Azarbaijan and his chief minister Qa'em Maqam Farahani.
1826-28 Second Russo Iranian war.
1828 Under the treaty of Tukmanchai the khanates of Iravan (Yerevan); Nakhjavan; Talesh were ceded to Russia plus other concessions.

The First Reformer: Crown Prince  Abbas Mirza
Qajar (1789-1833) the man who did not become king.

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Azarbaijan began to play an important role in Iran's history from this point on; indeed, until the pahlavi period, Azarbaijan was more advanced politically and culturally than the rest of Iran; its capital Tabriz was the seat of the Qajar crown prince (who was also in charge of defending the Caucasus); it was at the cross roads of social and cultural change from Ottoman empire and Russia; as such the Crown Prince Abbas Mirza, and his chief minister the Qa'em Maqm Farahani, were in the right position to see some of the shortcomings of the Qajar state and attempt to find a solution for it; since military defeat was the most evident manifestation of the state's inability to withstand the Russian incursions, it is natural that Abbas Mirza's reforms focused on the military; much influenced by Ottoman reforms under Selim III, these reforms were also called Nezam-e jadid reforms and were limited to Azarbaijan.


 The core of the new army was a standing 6000 man infantry with new European designed uniforms and modern weapons backed by a mobile artillery force plus foreign instructors (first French then English).  A canon factory and a musket plant in Tabriz were created to arm the new army; diplomatic missions were sent to London and paris; few (four in all) students were sent to study in Europe; the approval of the ulama of Azarbaijan was secured; for finances, court expenses were cut and protectionist policies devised for trade (this created enemies for reform policies); it was this army which was defeated in the second Russo-Iranian war which sealed the fate of the reforms as they were not followed up after Abbas Mirza's death (1833).

Crown Prince Abbas Mirza's Nezam-e Jadid army uniforms based on European model.

Second Russo-Iranian War (1826-1828):

The treaty of Golestan had left a number of vague points in terms of territorial division of the Caucasus; both sides were dissatisfied with the status que and negotiations did not solve the problem; some ulama cited (with mixed truth and exaggeration) the mistreatment of Moslems under Russian control, and demanded revenge; leading ulama and top government officials pressured the shah for holy war (jihad) against the Russians; Iran opened the new round of hostility in 1826 and was decisively defeated.

A scene from Russo-Iranian war

The treaty of Turkmanchai gave away the khanates of Iravan (Yerevan), Nakhjavan; Talesh; Iran was made to pay 3 million pound sterling in war reparations, agreed not to maintain a navy in the Caspian sea and gave extra territorial and tariff concessions (capitulations) to the Russians; these were: no more than 5% import tariff on Russian goods, no internal tariffs, the application of Russian laws for Russian subjects (and Iranian subject under Russian protection) in Iran; later other major powers received the same privileges; Russia agreed to guarantee the succession of the Qajars in the line of Abbas Mirza.

Turkmanchai  (Photo by MB)


Iran's wars with Russia [and later GB] were costly; when the burden of these wars on the already improvised treasury became great, tuyul were given out in return for military and financial aid; such grants usually became hereditary and was exempt from tax; this meant more tax for areas under state control which translated into doubling of taxes.

Abbas Mirza's reforms was not continued forcefully after his sudden death in 1833 [Fath Ali Shah died in 1834]; the new shah in 1834 was Mohammad, Abbas Mirza's sickly son (1834-1848); why was not Abbas Mirza's reforms continued?  For it have happened, first, there should have been a resolute reforming Qajar leader after Abbas Mirza, this was not the case.  Second, there was vested interest which worked hard against centralization and the Qajar state failed to suppress.  These were: many tribal (and some urban leaders) opposed to centralization (standing army and strong administration) because it could have limited their autonomy; some ulama were against modern army and viewed it as Western incursion and weakening of their power; some army officers who benefited from corruption were also against any new order and discipline in the army.

To continue the reforms any Qajar ruler had to bring the tribes to their kneel, silence the ulama and create a strong centralized administration [something that Mohammad Ali Pasha and Ottoman reformists did in Egypt and the Ottoman empire and which was finally achieved under Reza Shah Pahlavi 1925-1941].  Hence the Qajar state was ultimately a weak one; after direct foreign threat subsided, it did not even have a strong army and ruled by playing one faction (tribe; group) against the other.

Mohammad Shah II (r.1834-1848). Note how his attire becomes more European looking as
time goes by.

 Reforms & Premiership of Amir Kabir (1848-1852):

Fath Ali's reign saw increased diplomatic contacts with the West and the beginning of intense European diplomatic rivalries over Iran. His grandson Mohammad Shah, who fell under the influence of Russia and made two unsuccessful attempts to capture Herat, succeeded him in 1834. When Mohammad Shah died in 1848 the succession passed to his son Naser al-Din (r.1848-1896), who proved to be the ablest and most successful of the Qajar sovereigns.
During Naser al-Din Shah's reign Western science, technology, and educational methods were introduced into Iran and the country's modernization begun. Naser al-Din Shah tried to exploit the mutual distrust between Great Britain and Russia to preserve Iran's independence, but foreign interference and territorial encroachment increased under his rule. He contracted huge foreign loans to finance expensive personal trips to Europe. He was not able to prevent Britain and Russia from encroaching into regions of traditional Iranian influence. In 1856 Britain prevented Iran from reasserting control over Herat, which had been part of Iran in Safavid times but had been under non-Iranian rule since the mid-18th century. Britain supported the city's incorporation into Afghanistan; a country Britain helped create in order to extend eastward the buffer between its Indian territories and Russia's expanding empire. Britain also extended its control to other areas of the Persian Gulf during the 19th century. Meanwhile, by 1881 Russia had completed its conquest of present-day Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, bringing Russia's frontier to Iran's northeastern borders and severing historic Iranian ties to the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand. Several trade concessions by the Iranian government put economic affairs largely under British control. By the late 19th century, many Iranians believed that their rulers were beholden to foreign interests.

Mirza Mohammad Taqi Khan Farahani [initially with the title Amir Nezam (commander of the army) and later Amir Kabir (the great commander)] was the young prince Nasser al-Din's advisor and constable. With the death of Mohammad Shah in 1848, Mirza Taqi was largely responsible for ensuring the crown prince's succession to the throne. When Nasser al-Din succeeded to the throne, Amir Nezam was awarded the position of prime minister and the title of Amir Kabir, the Great Ruler.

Mirza Mohammad Taqi Farahani "Amir
Nezam" and later "Amir Kabir" was the
able first minister (Sadr-e 'Azam) to
Naser al-Din Shah from 1848 to1852
and was ordered killed by the shah in

Iran was virtually bankrupt, its central government was weak, and its provinces were almost autonomous. During the next two and a half years Amir Kabir initiated important reforms in virtually all sectors of society. Government expenditure was slashed, and a distinction was made between the privy and public purses. The instruments of central administration were overhauled, and the Amir Kabir assumed responsibility for all areas of the bureaucracy. Foreign interference in Iran's domestic affairs was curtailed, and foreign trade was encouraged. Public works such as the bazaar in Tehran were undertaken. Amir Kabir issued an edict banning ornate and excessively formal writing in government documents; the beginning of a modern Persian prose style dates from this time.

One of the greatest achievements of Amir Kabir was the building of Dar al-Fonun, the first modern university in Iran. Dar-al-Fonun was established for training a new cadre of administrators and acquainting them with Western techniques. Amir Kabir ordered the school to be built on the edge of the city so it can be expanded as needed. He hired French and Russian instructors as well as Iranians to teach subjects as different as Language, Medicine, Law, Geography, History, Economics, and Engineering. Unfortunately, Amir Kabir did not live long enough to see his greatest monument completed, but it still stands in Tehran as a sign of a great man's ideas for the future of his country.

These reforms antagonized various notables who had been excluded from the government. They regarded the Amir Kabir as a social upstart and a threat to their interests, and they formed a coalition against him, in which the queen mother was active. She convinced the young shah that Amir Kabir wanted to usurp the throne. In October 1851 the shah dismissed him and exiled him to Kashan, where he was murdered on the shah's orders.

A view of the front gate of Dar al-
Fonun in Tehran (photo by
MB 2004)

 Suppression of the Babi movement in Iran, coincided with the reforms of one of the best known 19th century Qajar administrators,  Amir Kabir.  An administrator in the court of the crown Prince, he was instrumental in bringing the eighteen year old Naser al-Din Shah (1848-1896) to Tehran to claim his throne in 1848.  Amir Kabir was the chief minister and brother-in-law to the new shah and served him for four years; he represents the second drive for reform in 19th century Iran.

from a humble origin [his father was a cook in Qa'im Maqam's household] Amir Kabir grew up in the reformist environment of Tabriz, had been appointed envoy to the Ottoman empire and was exposed to reforms in there; he was dismissed in 1851 and killed by the order of the shah in 1852.

Reforms: he revived the standing army; established fifteen factories to supply the army and to cut foreign imports (his industrialization program was not very successful due to capitulations); established the first official news paper (vaqaye'e-e etefaqiyeh); built the first secular modern school/polytechnic (Dar al-fonun-Abode of learning), it was taught by foreign instructors; reduced court expenditures and raised government revenues by increasing import duties and taxes; created a reaction by those whose interest was harmed: vested interest in the royal court and otherwise, and Queen Mother (Mahd-e Ulia), foreign powers; his own manners and relationship with the young shah helped his alienation and ultimate demise.

Naser al-Din Shah (1848-1896):

Naser al-Din Shah (1829-1896) the longest reigning Qajar (left) and
sitting on the steps of the Peacock Throne (right)

1856-57 The Afghan War: the shah attempted to reassert Iran's claim on  western Afghanistan by capturing Herat; this attempt and military campaign ran contrary to British policy which disapproved of it and attacked and occupied iran's southern port of Bushehr; as a result the shah backed off and in the Paris Peace conference (1857) renounced claim on Herat.

At the same time, the shah gave a telegraph concession to the GB linking India to Britain; this allowed the linking of Iran's major population centers to Tehran and initially worked in favor of the state, but later on it allowed the opposition to utilize it to inform different parts of the country of the news of revolutionary change.

1872 Concession to Baron Juliys de Reuter; gave Reuter all rights for building railroads in Iran, street cars, most mineral extractions, all unexploited irrigation works, a national bank, and all sorts of industrial and agricultural projects.  In return a modest sum plus a royalty was to be paid.

This attempt was supported by Iranian reformists [e.g. Mirza Hosein Khan the Sepasalar and Amin al-Dowleh, both prime ministers to the shah] who thought that the Qajar state was incapable of reform and the best way to promote reform was to encourage capitulations.

1873 On his first tripe abroad, the shah realized that the Russians were against the Reuter concession and the British government was not that enthusiastic either.
1879 The Cossack Brigade.
1890 The Tobacco concession (Talbot).
1891 In Dec., the anti-Tobacco movement was joined by the marja' of the time Hajj Mirza Hasan Shirazi when he issued a fatva against the use of Tobacco.
1896: The shah assassinated by Mirza Reza Kermani.

View more photos of Naser al-Din Shah

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Muzaffar al-Din Shah.(1896-1907)


Tow photos of Mozaffar al-Din Shah (r.
1896-1907) as crown prince and shah
wearing the Kiani crown.

View more photos of Mozaffar al-Din Shah

The anti-constitutionalist Muhammad Ali Shah (1907-1909):

Mohammad Ali Shah (r.1907-1909)
the anti-Constitutionalist shah at his
accession to the throne wearing the
 Kiani crown.
View more photos of Mohammad Ali Shah
The Last Qajar Sultan Ahmad Shah (r.1909-1925):
 The last Qajar shah (from left to right): 1) Sultan Ahmad Shah the boy king at 9 years old; 2) the 13 year old chubby shah;
3)  the 16 year old Sultan Ahmad Shah (r. 1909-1925) at accession to the throne in 1914; 4) with younger brother
and crown prince Mohammad Hasan Mirza.
View more photos of Sultan Ahmad Shah

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Golestan Palace complex was the main residence of Qajar shahs and contains some of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in Tehran (click to read more)

Niavaran Palace Complex consists of three palaces, two of which were built during the Qajar period:
(click to read more)

Views from the Sahebqaranieh palace in Niavaran  complex in northern Tehran.  This palace was built by the order of Naser al-Din Shah in late 19th century.

Views from the Ahmadshahi palace in the Niavaran complex built in early 20th century by the order of Ahmad Shah.

Read more on this period:

Atkin, Muril Russia and Iran 1780-1828.
Amanat, Abbas Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar and the Iranian Monarchy 1831-1896.
Bakhash, Shaul Bureaucracy and Religion Under The Qajars
Bournoutian, George A. Eastern Armenia in the Last Decades of Persian Rule.
Elwell-Sutton, L.P. Qajar Iran: Political, Social and Cultural Change 1800-1925.
Issawi, Charles The Economic History of Iran 1800-1914.
Keddie, N.R. An Islamic Response to Imperialism.
--------------- Qajar Iran and the Rise of Reza Khan: 1796-1925.
---------, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din "al-Afghani": A political Bibliography.
Kelly, J.B. Britain and the Persian Gulf 1795-1880.
Lambton, Ann Qajar Persia.
Mcdaniel, Robert The Shuster Mission and the Persian Constitutional Revolution.
Nashat, Guity The Origins of Modern Reforms in Iran 1870-1880.
Shuster Morgan, The Strangulation of Persia.
Yapp, Micheal The Last Years of the Qajar Dynasty.
Yeselson, Abraham United States-Persian Diplomatic Relations 1883-1921.