(Prepared by Maziar Behrooz)



Two view of the Qur'an Gate at northern entrance to the city of Shiraz


Zand (1751-1779):

 The Zands were a part of Nader Shah's army; they were a Zagros tribal group of Lurs or Kurds (an Iranian ethnic group), a minor pastoral people living in the plains of Hamadan near Malayer; the tribe was moved to northern Khorasan by Nadir and returned to its ancestral land after Nadir=s assassination and under their tribal chief Karim Khan.  

Karim Khan Zand -of humble tribal origin- became one of the generals of his predecessor, Nader Shah. In the chaotic aftermath of Nader Shah’s assassination in 1747, Karim Khan became a major contender for power but was challenged by several adversaries. Karim Khan gained control of central and southern parts of Iran. In order to add legitimacy to his claim, Karim Khan in 1757 placed on the throne the infant Shah Isma’il III, the grandson of the last official Safavid king. Isma’il was a figurehead king, real power being vested in Karim Khan. He was a compassionate ruler who refused to assume the title of shahanshah (king of kings) but used that of the vakil (regent).


During 1747-51 Karim consolidated his position in central Iran by defeating and killing Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar son of Fath Ali Khan.

 During 1751-63 Karim consolidated the Zand position in western Iran; by 1763 all of Iran except eastern parts of Khorasan (which remained under Shahrokh a grandson of Nadir) and the Afghan territory came under Karim who chose to be referred to as the Vakil al-Ro'aya instead of shah.

 1774-79 a two front war against the Ottoman empire (Shatt al-Arab/Basra, and the Kurdish territory); Karim wanted to put an stop to Ottoman governor of Baghdad's interference in Iran, gain access to holy Shi'a shrines in southern Iraq, and divert trade from Basra to Iranian ports in the Persian Gulf.

 Karim Khan's reign was brief and its achievements not very many; he brought a period of peace and relative prosperity; rebuilt Shiraz and added new monuments which stand today; his biggest failure was his inability to name a successor and arrange for a peaceful transition of power; after his death Zand princes began to fight each other for supremacy throwing the Zand domain into another period of civil war.

By 1760 Karim Khan had defeated all his rivals and controlled all of Iran except Khorasan, in the northeast, which was ruled by Shahrokh, the blind grandson of Nader Shah. During Karim Khan’s rule Iran recovered from the devastation of 40 years of war. He made Shiraz his capital, constructing many fine buildings. Moreover, he reorganized the fiscal system of the kingdom, removing some of the heavy burdens of taxation from the agricultural classes. An active patron of the arts, he attracted many scholars and poets to his capital.

Among structures from Karim Khan's time
are the Arg (citadel-top)  and the Vakil Mosque
both in Shiraz.

Zand coins

Karim Khan Zand (d.1779) the founder of Zand state in Iran who refused to take a
royal title and called himself Vakil
al-Ro'aya (deputy of the people)

Karim Khan also opened Iran to foreign influence by allowing the English East India Company to establish a trading post in Bushire, the Persian Gulf port (1763). In advancing his policy of developing trade, in 1775-76 he attacked and captured Basra, the Ottoman port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which had diverted much of the trade with India away from Iranian ports.

The civil war that followed Karim Khan’s death ended only with the final establishment of the Qajar dynasty in. His death in 1779 was followed by internal dissensions and disputes over successions. Between 1779 and 1789 five Zand kings ruled briefly. In 1789 Lotf Ali Khan (ruled 1789-94) proclaimed himself as the new Zand king and took energetic action to put down a rebellion led by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar that had begun at Karim Khan’s death. Outnumbered by the superior Qajar forces, Lotf Ali Khan was finally defeated and captured at Kerman in 1794. His defeat marked the final eclipse of the Zand dynasty, which was supplanted by that of the Qajars.

Read more on this period:

Perry, John. Karim Khan Zand: A History of Iran