Mohammad Khan Qajar

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Mohammad Khan Qajar
Shahanshah of Iran
Lion and Sun Emblem of Persia.svg
Portrait of Mohammad Khan Qajar
Reign 1789 – 17 June 1797
Successor Fath-Ali Shah Qajar
Dynasty Qajar dynasty
Father Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar
Born 1742
Astarabad, Iran
Died 17 June 1797 (aged 55)
Shusha, Karabakh Khanate
Burial Najaf
Religion Shia Islam

Agha Muḥammad Khān Qājār (1742–1797; Persian: آغا محمد خان قاجار‎)‎ was the founder of the Qajar dynasty of Iran, ruling from 1789 to 1797 as king (shah). He was originally chieftain of the Qoyunlu branch of the Qajar tribe. In 1789, Agha Mohammad Khan was enthroned as the king of Iran, but was not officially crowned as its king until March 1796. On June 17, 1797 Agha Mohammad Khan was assassinated, and was succeeded by his nephew, Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.

Agha Mohammad Khan's reign is noted for the reemergence of a centrally led and united Iran. Following the death of Nader Shah, many of the Iranian territories in the Caucasus that had been ruled by the various subsequent Iranian dynasties since 1501, today comprising Georgia, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia had broken apart into various Caucasian khanates. After 48 years, they were all reconquered by Agha Mohammad Khan. Some of his reconquest's were even for that time, exceptionally cruel, such as his resubjugation of Georgia, where he sacked the capital Tblisi and massacred many of its inhabitants, and moving away some 15,000 Georgian captives back to mainland Iran.

Agha Mohammad Khan is also noted moved for moving the capital to Tehran, where it still stands as of today.


Family and youth[edit]

Agha Mohammad Khan was born in around 1742 in Astarabad, he belonged to the Qoyunlu branch of the Qajar tribe. The tribe had several other branches, one of the most prominent ones being the Develu, which often fought against the Qoyunlu.[1] Agha Mohammad Khan was the eldest son of the chieftain of the Qoyunlu clan, Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar, and was the grandson of Fath Ali Khan, a prominent aristocrat, who was executed by the orders of shah Tahmasp II (possibly at the urging of Nader Qoli Beg, who would later become known as Nader Shah after usurping the throne of Iran in 1736 and thus laying the foundation of the Afsharid dynasty).[1] Agha Mohammad Khan had several half-brothers and full-brothers. They were: Hosayn Qoli Khan, Morteza Qoli Khan, Mostafa Qoli Khan, Reza Qoli, Ja'far Qoli, Mahdi Qoli, Abbas Qoli and Ali Qoli.[2]

When Nader Shah died in 1747, Afsharid rule of Iran fell apart, which gave Mohammad Hasan the opportunity to try to seize Astarabad for himself, which made Nader Shah's nephew Adil Shah march from Mashhad to the city in order to capture him. Although he failed to capture the latter, he managed to capture Agha Mohammad Khan, whom at first he planned to kill, but later chose to spare his life and instead had him castrated and thereafter freed, which is therefor he is known by the title of "Agha", a common title among eunuchs who served at the court.[1][3][4]

The death of Mohammad Hasan[edit]

During the following 10 years, Afsharid rule in Khorasan suffered heavily from war among rival chieftains and from invasions by Durrani ruler of Qandahar, Ahmad Shah Durrani. During this period, Mohammad Hasan fought against the Pashtun military leader Azad Khan Afghan and the Zand ruler Karim Khan for the suzerainty over the western part of Nader Shah's former empire. He was, however, defeated in 1759 by a Zand army, and thereafter betrayed by his own followers and killed by his old rival, Mohammad Khan of Savadkuh.[1][2] Due to Agha Mohammad Khan's castration, his brother Hosayn Qoli Khan was appointed as the new chieftain of the Qoyunlu instead.[5] Astarabad thereafter shortly fell under the control of Karim Khan, who appointed a Develu as its governor. Meanwhile, Agha Mohammad Khan and his brother Hosayn Qoli Khan fled to the steppe. One year later, Agha Mohammad made an incursion against Astarabad, but was later forced to flee while he was chased by the city's governor.[1] Agha Mohammad Khan managed to reach Ashraf, but was at last seized and was sent as a hostage to Tehran, where Karim Khan was at. Hosayn Qoli Khan was also shortly captured and sent to Karim Khan.

Life at Karim Khan's court[edit]

Agha Mohammad Khan, during his stay, was treated kindly and honorably by Karim Khan, who made him convince his kinsmen to lay down their arms, which they did. Karim Khan then settled them in Damghan. In 1763, Agha Mohammad Khan and Hosayn Qoli Khan were sent to the Zand capital, Shiraz.[1]

Agha Mohammad, during his stay at Karim Khan's court, was looked upon more as an respected guest than a captive. Furthermore, Karim Khan also acknowledged Agha Mohammad Khan's political knowledge and used to ask for his advice on interests of the state and used to call him his "Pīrān-e Vēas", which the intelligent counselor of the legendary Iranian king Afrasiab was said to have been called.[1] In February 1769, Karim Khan appointed Hosayn Qoli Khan as the governor of Damghan. When Hosayn Qoli Khan reached Damghan, he immediately came in a fierce conflict with the Develu and other tribes, in order to gain revenge for his father's death. He was, however, at last killed in ca. 1777 near Findarisk, by some Turks from the Yamut tribe, whom he had clashed with.[5] In 1 March 1779, while Agha Mohammad Khan was hunting, he got informed by his paternal aunt Khadija Begum, that Karim Khan, after 6 months of being ill, had died.[1][6][5]


Agha Mohammad Khan then took with him a group of loyal followers and left for Tehran. Meanwhile, in Shiraz, people were fighting among themselves. In Tehran, Agha Mohammad Khan met the main chieftains of the Develu clan, whom he made peace with. He then went to the shrine of Shah Abd al-Azim, where his father's skull was kept. He then went to the Mazandaran Province, where his first task was to set up his suzerainty among his Qoyunlu brothers. This resulted in a clash with his two brothers Reza Qoli and Morteza Qoli, whom he defeated on 2 April and conquered Mazandaran.[7] Meanwhile, Morteza Qoli fled to Astarabad, where he fortified himself. Agha Mohammad Khan could not simply force himself in, since starting a war with Morteza Qoli, would mean that his frail alliance with the Develu could get canceled, since Morteza Qoli's mother was a Develu.[7] At the same time, the Zand prince Ali Murad Khan sent an army consisting of Zand and Afghan troops under Azad Khan Afghan's son Mahmud Khan to Mazandaran, which Agha Mohammad Khan's brother Ja'far Qoli managed to repel. Agha Mohammad Khan was now in a firm position in Babol, the capital of Mazandaran.[7]

Agha Mohammad Khan spent the next 16 years at Karim Khan's court, until he escaped in 1779. That same year, the death of Karim Khan plunged the country into a series of civil wars and disputes over the succession, with many members of the Zand dynasty acceding to the Sun Throne in the space of only ten years. Agha Muhammad took the opportunity to launch a rebellion which, in 1794, succeeded in capturing Lotf Ali Khan, the last Zand ruler. Two years later, after having brought eastern Georgia and the other principal territories in the North Caucasus and South Caucasus back within the Iranian domains, he proclaimed himself Shahanshah (King of Kings) on the Mughan plain, just like Nader Shah had done some sixty years earlier.[8]


The capture of Tbilisi by Agha Muhammad Khan. A Qajar-era Persian miniature from the British Library.

Agha Muhammad restored Persia to a unity it had not had since Karim Khan. He was, however, a man of extreme violence who killed almost all who could threaten his hold on power. In 1795 he attacked eastern Georgia, which had been under intermittent Iranian suzerainty since 1555, but had been independent after the disintegrating of the Iranian Afsharid Dynasty. His successful campaign brought eastern Georgia, recently unified by Erekle II and consisting of the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti, effectively back into the Iranian domains.[9][10] Erekle II, who was appointed as king of Kakheti decades earlier by Nader Shah himself,[11] had put up a fierce resistance at the battle of Tbilisi, but was eventually soundly defeated. In the same year Muhammad Khan also captured Khorasan. Shah Rukh, ruler of Khorasan and grandson of Nadir Shah, was tortured to death because Agha Muhammad thought that he knew of Nadir's legendary treasures.

Old picture of Agha Mohammad Khan's residence in Sari.

In 1778, Agha Muhammad moved his capital from Sari in his home province of Mazandaran to Tehran. He was the first Persian ruler to make Tehran — the successor to the great city of Rayy — his capital, although both the Safavids and the Zands had expanded the town and built palaces there. One of the main reasons noted for moving the capital much more northwards was to remain in close reach of Azarbaijan and Iran's integral Caucasian territories in the North Caucasus and South Caucasus, at that time not yet ceded to Imperial Russia,[12] a fate to be followed in the course of the 19th century. He was formally crowned in 1796 and founded the Qajar dynasty.[13][14]

Although the Russians briefly took and occupied Derbent and Baku during the expedition of 1796 under the command of count Zubov, he successfully expanded Persian influence into the Caucasus, reasserting Iranian sovereignty over its former dependencies in the region. He was, however, a notoriously cruel ruler, who reduced Tbilisi to ashes, while massacring and carrying away its Christian population, to a degree similar as he had done with his Muslim subjects. He based his strength on tribal manpower of Genghis Khan, Teimur and Nader Shah.[13]


Agha Muhammad's successful reign however was short-lived, as he was assassinated in 1797 in his tent in the city of Shusha, the capital of the Karabakh khanate, three days after he had taken the city,[15] and less than 3 years in power. According to Hasan-e Fasa'i's' Farsnama-ye Naseri, during Agha Muhammad's stay in Shusha, one night "a quarrel arose between a Georgian servant named Sadeq and the valet Khodadad-e Esfahani. They raised their voices to such a pitch that the shah became angry and ordered both to be executed. Sadeq Khan-e Shaghaghi, a prominent emir, interceded on their behalf, but was not listened to. The shah, however, ordered their execution to be postponed until Saturday, as this happened to be the evening of Friday (the Islamic holy day), and ordered them back to their duties in the royal pavilion, unfettered and unchained, awaiting their execution the next day. From experience, however, they knew that the King would keep to what he had ordered, and, having no hope, they turned to boldness. When the shah was sleeping, they were joined by the valet Abbas-e Mazandarani, who was in the plot with them, and the three invaded the royal pavilion and with dagger and knife murdered the shah."[citation needed]

His nephew, crowned as Fath-Ali Shah Qajar, succeeded him.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Perry 1984, pp. 602–605.
  2. ^ a b Hambly 1991, p. 112.
  3. ^ Ghani 2001, p. 1.
  4. ^ Hambly 1991, pp. 110–111.
  5. ^ a b c Hambly 1991, pp. 112-113.
  6. ^ Perry 2011, pp. 561–564.
  7. ^ a b c Hambly 1991, p. 114.
  8. ^ Michael Axworthy. Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day Penguin UK, 6 Nov. 2008 ISBN 0141903414
  9. ^ Fisher, William Bayne (1991). The Cambridge History of Iran 7. Cambridge University Press. pp. 128–129. Agha Muhammad Khan remained nine days in the vicinity of Tiflis. His victory proclaimed the restoration of Iranian military power in the region formerly under Safavid domination. 
  10. ^ Michael Axworthy. Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day Penguin UK, 6 nov. 2008 ISBN 0141903414
  11. ^ Suny 1994, p. 55.
  12. ^ Amanat 1997, p. 12.
  13. ^ a b c Cyrus Ghani (6 January 2001). Iran and the Rise of the Reza Shah: From Qajar Collapse to Pahlavi Power. I.B.Tauris. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-1-86064-629-4. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Michael Axworthy. Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day Penguin UK, 6 Nov. 2008 ISBN 0141903414
  15. ^ Fisher et al. 1991, p. 329.


Mohammad Khan Qajar
Preceded by
Shah of the Qajar Dynasty of Iran
1789 –1797
Succeeded by
Fath-Ali Shah Qajar