Dwarfed Sultans

  June 07, 2022   Read time 5 min
Dwarfed Sultans
The claims of these pretenders to be Safavid princes — no fewer than three Safi Mirzas and three Isma'Il Mirzas emerged - were at best dubious and as a rule totally without foundation. Yet genuine princes of the fallen dynasty did exist, as well as others whose claims, whilst doubtful, could not simply be rejected out of hand.

As we have already seen, Tahmasp Mlrza (b. 1704), appointed crown prince by Sultan Husain, succeeded in breaking through the Afghan lines during the siege of Isfahan and managed to reach Qazvln. There, as early as 30 Muharram 1135/10 November 1722, he had himself proclaimed shah, had the style of Shah Tahmasp II included in official prayers and on the coinage, and issued decrees (arqdm) in all parts of the country, announcing his accession to the throne. Although his was only a nominal rule, he reigned in fact for a good ten years.1 In addition to Tahmasp, another prince, Mirza Sayyid Ahmad, son of Shah Sulaiman's eldest daughter, had managed to escape. In 1139/1726 he rose to the level of ruler in Kirman and proved to be a serious opponent in combats with the forces of both Tahmasp II and the Afghans. He did indeed constitute a greater threat to the Afghans than Tahmasp, and accordingly received more attention from them. Eventually he was defeated and brought as a prisoner to the Afghan chieftain, who had him executed in 1140/1728.

In foreign affairs, the greatest threat to Persia after the abdication of Sultan Husain came from Russian and Ottoman designs on territory in the Caspian provinces and the north-west of the country respectively. Russian troops were already present in Darband and other places on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The Ottomans, for their part, were not slow to act. Sending a declaration of war in 1135/1723, they marched troops into Georgia and — via Kirmanshah and Hamadan — into Persia itself. The policy of Tahmasp II, who had been forced to withdraw from Qazvln to Tabriz by the Afghans, from there to Ardabll by the Turks and ultimately via Ray to Mazandaran, again by the Turks, was dictated by the notion that his position at home would be consolidated if only the Russians and Ottomans could be induced to recognise him as the legitimate ruler of Persia. With this in mind he had sent negotiators to Istanbul and St Petersburg. As a result the Porte changed its view in his favour, but in a treaty for the division of western Persia, concluded by the Sultan and the Tsar for 2 Shawwal 1136/24 June 1724, the two powers merely expressed a desire to help the shah to achieve "his legitimate rights". Moreover, he was to restrict himself to the territory in the west of the country, defined by the places Ardabll, Sultaniyya and Qazvin.

Tahmasp II's first vakil al-daula was Fath 'All Khan Qajar. He was followed by Nadr Qull Beg Afshar, a particularly capable military commander who successfully fought the Afghans and the Turks on his behalf and subjugated Azarbaljan, Georgia and most of Armenia. In other respects, too, he did everything to gain the shah's favour. In 1138/1726 he had conferred upon him the title Tahmasp Qull ("servant of Tahmasp") and by driving out the Afghan Ashraf he even made it possible for the shah to return to Isfahan. It became increasingly clear, however, that the weak and unreliable shah was incapable of being anything more than a puppet in the general's hands, and when he suffered a heavy defeat in a battle with the Turks the latter's patience came to an end. He exposed the shah publicly as a drunkard and dethroned him.

He clearly still thought it advisable, however, to take account of popular sympathy for the Safavids, otherwise he would scarcely have nominated a new Safavid shah, the deposed monarch's eight-monthold son, who as 'Abbas III was puppet king from 1144/1732 to 1148/ 1736. The general then deposed him as well and mounted the throne himself under the name Nadir Shah. Tahmasp II and 'Abbas III were imprisoned and executed in 1740 at Sabzavar together with Isma'Il, another son of Tahmasp.
Although it is true that the Afshar tribe to which he belonged was one of the Qizilbash tribes which had contributed in large measure to the rise of the Safavids,1 Nadir Shah's general outlook by no means accorded with the Safavid conception of the state. Two things demonstrate this clearly: his religious policy, which involved a turning away from the Twelver Shl'a, and his decision to transfer the capital to Mashhad. Although this city lay in the middle of his Khurasanian homeland, the main reason for the transfer was more probably its central position within the extensive territory that Nadir Shah thought of as his empire, as is shown by his campaigns in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India. His conception was, therefore, an imperial one that had nothing in common with the Safavids' idea of their realm, which was confined solely to Iranian lands. At any rate, Nadir's outlook could be compared to that of Tlmur. It might be thought that the successes he enjoyed in realising this conception would have caused the glory of the Safavids to fade somewhat in the eyes of the Persian people. But the situation soon changed. When, after the murder of Nadir, the princes of his family were systematically eliminated, one of his grandsons, Shah Rukh by name (b. 1734), was spared. Now his mother was a daughter of Sultan Husain, and it was clearly the intention that a legitimate prince of Safavid descent should be available as puppet ruler in case renewed enthusiasm for the dynasty were to arise. At the time nobody could have foreseen that Shah Rukh would rule over the inheritance of Nadir Shah, or what still remained of it, from 1161/1748 to 1210/1796, albeit with some interruptions.