Military of the Afsharid dynasty of Persia

The military forces of the Afsharid dynasty of Persia had their origins in the relatively obscure yet bloody inter-factional violence in Khorasan during the collapse of the Safavid state. The small band of warriors under local warlord Nader Qoli of the Turkomen Afshar tribe in north-east Iran were no more than a few hundred men. Yet at the height of Nader's power as the king of kings, Shahanshah, he commanded an army of 375,000 fighting men which constituted the single most powerful military force of its time,[1][2] led by one of the most talented and successful military leaders of history.[3]

Afsharid Military
Nader Shah Flag.svg
Nader Shah's battle standard
Active1736-1747 (national military)
1747-1796 (dynastic military only)
CountryAfsharid Imperial Standard (3 Stripes).svg Imperial Persia
AllegianceShahanshah (King of Kings)
BranchArmed forces
TypeLand forces, navy
Size375,000 at its peak
Garrison/HQMashhad
PatronShahanshah of the Persian Empire
EngagementsNader's Campaigns
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Nader Shah, Ebrahim Khan Afshar, Tahmasp Khan Jalayer, Reza Qoli Mirza Afshar, Adil Shah, Nasrollah Qoli Khan Afshar, Fath-Ali Khan Afshar, Heraclius II of Georgia

After the assassination of Nader Shah at the hands of a faction of his officers in 1747, Nader's powerful army fractured as the Afsharid state collapsed and the country plunged into decades of civil war. Although there were numerous Afsharid pretenders to the throne, (amongst many other), who attempted to regain control of the entire country, Persia remained a fractured political entity in turmoil until the campaigns of Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar in towards the very end of the eighteenth century reunified the nation.

InfantryEdit

 
Persian shamshir. In addition to their flintlock muskets, Persian infantry were also equipped with shamshirs for close combat.

The infantry arm in the majority of Persian armies both in antiquity (Achaemenid, Arsacid, Sassanid) as well as modern history (Seljukid, Safavid) were considered a secondary force rather than an arm equal in importance to the cavalry. Additionally firearm infantry were never a fully developed corps in the Persian army with the exception of Shah Abbas the great's reforms which did bring forth a modernised matchlock wielding body of soldiers into the Persian army.

The entire infantry corps had a standardised uniform of blue tunics and red trousers with a tall hat referred to as kolāh-e Nāderi, (کلاهِ نادری).

Nader's early campaigns against the Abdali Afghans of western Afghanistan which fielded superior cavalry compelled Nader to seek a tactical solution geared around an infantry solution. The development of this system of having strong firearm infantry to provide a stable pivot around which to position artillery and manoeuvre cavalry allowed Nader to defeat the Abdali horsemen.

TofangchiEdit

The Tofangchi (تفنگچی) were the regular musket armed infantry of the army and had been an increasingly large part of the Persian armies since the time of the Safavids. The Tofangchi also carried a melee weapon such as either a long dagger (Khanjar) or a curved Persian sword (shamshir). Generally the Tofangchi were equipped with lighter muskets than the elite Jazāyerchi.

JazāyerchiEdit

 
Jazāyer muskets on display in Mashhad's Museum of Nader Shah.

The jazāyerchi (Persian: جزایرچی‎) were the elite of Nader's infantry musketeers. The Jazāyer (جزایر), a flintlock musket, used by these infantrymen was of a much heavier calibre than their European counterparts and consequently had a greater range as well as improved accuracy (the average European musket weighed around 5 kilograms and fired a shot only 18 millimetres in diameter, whereas the jazāyer weighed almost 18 kilograms and fired a shot 24 millimetres in diameter).

Unlike European muskets however, the jazāyer was loaded using a horn rather than a paper cartridge meaning although the jazāyer had the advantages of range, force of impact and accuracy, it took longer to reload than the standard European muskets of the era. One of the earliest recordings of Persian soldiers using jazāyers in combat dates back to the mid-seventeenth century. In addition to the jazāyer, jazāyerchi also used shamshirs. This body of infantry underwent an incredibly intense regiment of drills and continuous training.[4][5] An eyewitness account of one of the training sessions gives the following description:

[T]he infantry—I mean those that carried muskets—would get together in their own units and they would shoot their guns at a target and exercise continuously. If Tahmasp Quli Khan, (referring here to Nader), saw an ordinary soldier consistently on top form he would promote him to be a leader of 100 men or a leader of 50 men. He encouraged all the soldiers toward bravery, ability and experience, and in simple words he himself gave an example of strong character and military virtue.[5]

Jazāyerchi units engaged in training several hours everyday.[6] A clear emphasis was given to constant drilling of the soldiers. Nader shaped the jazāyerchi corps himself and often took personal command of them in battle. According to another contemporary, the jazāyerchi were well uniformed and provided with the best equipment.[7]

The total number of jazāyerchi seems to have varied with time as we have varying reports of strength numbers but generally speaking the corps was approximately a dozen thousand strong. Jonas Hanway reported that in 1744 there was a contingent of 12,000 jazāyerchi in addition to the 40,000 regular Tofangchi (musketeers).[7] Nader also had a contingent of 12,000 jazāyerchi on his Central Asian campaign.

Although the Jazāyerchi were an infantry corps they usually campaigned on mounts and occasionally fought as mounted troops also, (as some units did at Karnal). They were used to achieve the hardest and most crucial tactical tasks due to their high quality as elite fighting troops, proving their worth in many battles including Mihmandust, Murche-Khort, Kirkuk, Yeghevārd, Karnal and Kars.

On the deadly impact of the jazāyer during the Battle of Karnal, a contemporary noted, "An arrow cannot answer a Jazāyer".[8]

CavalryEdit

 
Shamshirs (swords) from the Afsharid era, displayed at Nader Shah's Museum in Mashhad.

The cavalry held the most esteemed position in the Iranian armies from the very beginnings of Iranian Empires well over 2,500 years ago. Nader introduced far reaching reforms in this arm of the military including the State's financial responsibility for the cavalrymen's mounts. Prior to Nader, horsemen would be unwilling to cause much risk for their steeds as they were usually a prized property of their master's. The cavalry corps were fundamentally divided into two groups by their origin (whether they were recruited by the central government or pressed into service from subject lands and from tributary clans).

Persian cavalry were in general superior to their Ottoman counterparts.[6]

...they attacked from all sides, circling in any new direction. The ranks closed in and then they would charge and then disperse, after which this same scattered group would close ranks on the same point. They would feign a retreat and then counter attack...

— Vatatzes, Basile

Although the majority of the cavalry were armed with shamshirs a number of other weapons such as lances and firearms were also used. By 1736 muskets were one of the standard weapons of the cavalry, enabling the troops further flexibility in both scouting and skirmishing (as witnessed at Karnal).

Iranian cavalryEdit

 
A lightly armoured Persian Lancer

The most prestigious cavalry units belonging to the State were the Shah's personal guard. One of the most illustrious units was Savaran-e Saltanati (سواران‌ سلطنتی). The title of the unit can be translated as the "Royal Cavalry". The Afsharid, Jalayerid, Qajarid clans were used as the main pools of recruitment as well as the Shahsevan of Azerbaijan, and Iranian tribes of Western Iran. The Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan (سواران‌ سپاه خراسان) consisted of 20 fowj (each fowj being a regiment of 1,000 soldiers) giving a total of 20,000 horsemen.

The Gholāmān-e Shāh (غلامان شاه, literally meaning "Servants of the Shah") was a unit of 3,000 chosen cavalrymen which functioned as Nader's personal guard.

Auxiliary cavalryEdit

Another prestigious division in Nader's forces was the Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan (سواران‌ سپاه خراسان), which can be translated as the "Riders of the Army of Khorasan". Drawn primarily from the Gilzai, Abdali, Kurds and other tribal elements in the Empire. The Afghan horsemen (both Gilzai & Abdali) were among the very finest of shock cavalry in Asia.[6] The size of this cavalry body fluctuated with time but at one point it was reported as 70,000 strong. Elements within the Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan were occasionally promoted by Nader to the Savaran-e Saltanati. The Savaran-e Sepah-e Khorasan played a decisive role in the final phase of the battle of Kars in which they participated in a huge flank attack, (40,000 strong), which Nader led personally.

ArtilleryEdit

One of the branches of service to benefit most from Nader's reforms was by far the artillery. During the reign of the Safavid dynasty gunpowder weapons were used to a relatively limited extent and were certainly not to be considered central to the Safavid military machine.[9] Although most of Nader's military campaigns were conducted with an aggressive speed of advance which brought up difficulties in keeping up the heavy guns with the army's rapid marches, Nader placed great emphasis on enhancing his artillery units.

 
A field cannon from the Afsharid period.

The main centres of Persian armament production were Amol, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Merv. These military factories achieved high levels of production and managed to equip the army with good quality cannon. However mobile workshops allowed for Nader to maintain his strategic mobility whilst preserving versatility in the deployment of heavy siege cannon when required.

One of Nader's key artillery units were the zamburakchi (زنبورکچی), a corps of artillery batteries which were 1 or 2-pounder swivel guns mounted on the back of camels. They were rather inaccurate and short in range compared to regular field-artillery but had the clear advantage in mobility and when massed could deliver a devastating volley (as seen in the battles of Yeghevard and Karnal). The Persian army maintained a corps of many hundreds of zamburaks.[6]

The field artillery became an integral part of Nader's forces. During Nader's first Mesopotamian campaign, the field army he marched north to Samarra to confront the relief force commanded by Topal Pasha contained eighteen field pieces (four 30-pounders, six 15-pounders and another six 9-pounders).[10]

Benefiting from Nader's reforms, the Persian field artillery became superior to both the Ottoman and in particular the Mughal artillery. In the battles of Yeghevard and Kars the Persian guns fired more accurately and attained a significantly higher rate of fire than their Turkish counterparts.[11] Persian artillery was also very effective in Nader's Central Asian Campaign as the warriors of the Central Asian Khanate were unfamiliar with engaging armies with modernised artillery and gunpowder.[citation needed]

NavyEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Axworthy, Michael (2007). "The Army of Nader Shah". Iranian Studies. Informa UK. 40 (5): 635–646. doi:10.1080/00210860701667720.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ Axworthy, Michael (2009). The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from tribal warrior to conquering tyrant, . I. B. Tauris
  3. ^ Axworthy, Michael, "Iran: Empire of the Mind", Penguin Books, 2007. p158
  4. ^ Abraham of Crete,The Chronicle of Abraham of Crete (CAC), ed. and trans., G.A. Bournoutian (Costa Mesa, 1999), 118.
  5. ^ a b Basile Vatatzes, Persica: Histoire de Chah-Nadir, ed. N. Iorga (Bucharest, 1939), 133.
  6. ^ a b c d "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ a b Hanway, Jonas, An Historical Account of the British Trade, 1: 251–3
  8. ^ Lockhart, Laurence, Nadir Shah: A Critical Study Based Mainly Upon Contemporary Sources, London (1938), p.88, Luzac & Co.
  9. ^ Rudi Matthee, "Unwalled Cities and Restless Nomads: Firearms and Artillery in Safavid Iran" in Safavid Persia: The History and Politics of an Islamic Society , ed. Charles Melville (London, 1996)
  10. ^ Von Hammer, Purgstall, J. "Histoire de l Empire Ottman (french translation by J.J. Hellert), Paris 1835-1843.
  11. ^ Axworthy, Michael (2009). The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from tribal warrior to conquering tyrant. I. B. Tauris