Vandalization of Persian Dream

  June 07, 2022   Read time 3 min
Vandalization of Persian Dream
The Safavid empire was in flames, but it still enjoyed a respite which might have saved it from utter ruin — a respite, however, of which no advantage was taken.

Immediately after his return from Tehran, Sultan Husain repaired to his favourite castle of Farahabad on the other side of the Zayandarud and occupied himself with its further development, seemingly oblivious of the reasons for the campaign that he had intended to pursue only shortly before. Only when news arrived that Mahmud was again about to enter Kirman did the government in Isfahan begin to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

The Ghalzai had indeed arrived outside the city on 22 October 1721, but after suffering heavy casualties during an unsuccessful attack on the citadel Mahmud decided to forgo a renewed attempt, probably because of the risk of further losses, and marched on. A similar situation occurred in Yazd, where after an unsuccessful blockade Mahmud raised the siege in exchange for the payment of a high tribute and continued his march in the direction of Isfahan. Authorities there must by this time have realised that Mahmud was out to clinch matters, if reports are true that en route he was twice interrupted by messengers of the shah who were to offer financial inducements to halt his advance. Mahmud rejected such offers, rightly inferring that Sultan Husain's preparations for defence could not be very strong.

In Sagzl, twenty-five miles east of Isfahan, he received intelligence of a Persian force advancing against him. He then continued his march only as far as the village of Muhammadabad where he divided his troops, positioning them on three hills where they had an uninterrupted view over a plain stretching some 4,000 yards or more to the next village, Gulnabad. The Ghalzai forces were not all that strong: probably 10,000 men, to which must be added the support troops of the Hazaras and Baluchls. Although details of the numerical strength of the two sides vary considerably in the sources, it is in all unlikely that Mahmud had more than 18,000 combatants at his disposal, and allowance must be made for the losses he had so far incurred: the abortive assault on the citadel of Kirman alone had cost him 1,500 men.

On 7 March 1722 the Persian forces arrived on the battlefield. Their army of 42,000 men was superior, numerically and in various other respects, to that of the Afghans. Although it contained a fairly large proportion of hastily assembled volunteers who were inadequately trained and armed, there were also experienced fighting troops such as the corps of royal squires (qullar), which included a four-hundredstrong guards unit under the command of the experienced Georgian general Rustam Khan; a 12,000 strong corps of Arab cavalry commanded by the vail of 'Arabistan, who is said to have been called Sayyid 'Abd-Allah; two Lorian contingents of mounted tribal warriors, one under the command of 'All Mardan Khan Faill, the other under 'All Riza Khan from Kuhglluya; and a detachment of artillery with twenty-four guns commanded by a Persian with the assistance of an experienced French master-gunner.

When battle commenced the following afternoon, the Persians gained initial successes that very nearly reduced Mahmud to a state of panic. It soon became apparent, however, that there was a total lack of coordination on the Persian side. There was no unified supreme command, responsibility being shared by two men who were, what is more, sworn enemies. They were the new Grand Vizier (i'timad al-daula) Muhammad Qull Khan Shamlu and the vail of 'Arabistan. The latter owed his position to the special favour of the shah whilst the Grand Vizier, as a former general of the guards (qurchi-bashl), was expected to possess military ability - a totally unwarranted assumption. The Persians' main asset, their heavy artillery, was scarcely of any account because the Afghans succeeded in eliminating it early in the battle. Whereas the absence of a clear hierarchy of command proved fatal to the Persians, the superior coordination of their own forces enabled the Afghans to make the best of a bad job even in awkward situations. By the end of the day the Persian forces had collapsed and were retreating in undisciplined fashion into Isfahan. Their- losses are estimated at 5,000 men, whereas the Afghans are said to have lost only a tenth of that number. Only fear of an ambush prevented the Afghans from pursuing the defeated Persians into the city.