Nader Shah Afshar (r. 1736-1747): A Short Overview of the Career of an 18th-Century Iranian Conqueror

Perhaps one of the most significant rulers of Iran in the post-Safavid period was Nāder Shah Afshar (r. 1736-1747). Although most students of Islamic history are somewhat familiar with the Safavid rulers (1501-1722) or the later Qajar sovereigns (1785-1925), Nāder Shah and the Afsharid dynasty that he founded are usually less well known. In this short piece, I want to provide a very short outline of Nāder Shah’s career. I also wanted to shed some light on his coinage, which I personally find to be one of the most interesting aspects of his rule since it emphasizes the concept of universal sovereignty while excluding any explicitly sectarian (Sunni or Shi’ite) identification. In a future post, I will look in a bit more depth at his religious policies–which have remained largely misunderstood–and connect them with this concept of universal sovereignty.

Nāder Shāh, an Afsharid Turcoman, attempted to realize a grandiose imperial vision, modeled upon that of Tīmūr (r. 1370–1405), of a Turkic empire extending across the Iranian plateau. As part of his attempts to realize this broader objective he adopted a strategy of engaging with various modes of legitimacy—Sunni, Shi’i, Turkic, and Iranian—in conjunction with major military expansion. However, despite some important military and political successes, by the end of his reign his strained relations with the Iranian populace—as a result of his harsh fiscal policies and violent repression of dissent—erupted into major rebellions across his empire, which he attempted to quell with increasing brutality before he was assassinated in 1747.

Nāder Afshar, born around 1688, was born into the Qirqlū clan of the Afshār Turcoman tribe, which was one of the original Kizilbāsh oymāqs (tribal groupings) that had helped bring the Safavids to power in the early sixteenth century. Following the devolution of the Safavid polity, which culminated in the Afghan invasions and the occupation of Isfahan in 1722, Nāder became involved in the power struggles that took place around Mashhad in northeastern Iran.

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The Iranian Origin of the Six Masters of Sunni Hadith

“If knowledge were located in the Pleiades (a constellation of stars), the Persians would surely attain it”–Prophet Muhammad

It is a little known fact that all six of the authors/compilers of the major books of Sunni ḥadīth—works that are together known as the Siḥāḥ al-Sitta—were of Persian/Iranian origin. Interestingly, these eminent figures are only six of hundreds of other Iranian scholars who were central to the shaping of the Sunni religious and intellectual tradition. In a scheme of early medieval Islamic history which is dominated by Arabo-centrism and in a contemporary world in which the association between Iran and Shi’ism is so central that one cannot think of one without the other, this fact of the Persian or Iranian origin of some of the most important figures of authority in Sunni Islam becomes increasingly relevant in challenging the dominant narratives and assumptions which continue to pervade the historical understanding (and contemporary vision) of Islam and Iran. It also emphasizes that some of the most important developments in traditionist Sunni scholarship in the medieval period occurred on the Iranian plateau.

(In this context, Iranian origin is intended to convey that these individuals were 1) descended from the indigenous inhabitants of the Iranian plateau; and 2) were Persian-speaking)

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