Naser al-Din Shah Qajar

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Naser al-Din Shah Qajar
Shahanshah of Iran
Zell'ollah (Shadow of God [on earth])[1]
Qebleh-ye 'ālam (Pivot of the Universe)[1]
Islampanah (Refuge of Islam)[1]
Naser al-Din Shah, photographed by Nadar in 1889
Shah of Iran
Reign5 September 1848 – 1 May 1896
PredecessorMohammad Shah Qajar
SuccessorMozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar
RegentMalek Jahan Khanom
Born(1831-07-17)17 July 1831[2]
Kahnamu, Iran
Died1 May 1896(1896-05-01) (aged 64)
Tehran, Iran
Spouse85 women, among them:
  • Galin Khanom
  • Taj al-Dawlah
  • Shokouh al-Saltaneh
(m. 1851; died 1860)
IssueSee below
Naser al-Din Shah
FatherMohammad Shah Qajar
MotherMalek Jahan Khanom
ReligionShia Islam
TughraNaser al-Din Shah Qajar's signature

Naser al-Din Shah Qajar[3] (Persian: ناصرالدین‌شاه قاجار, romanizedNāser-ad-Din Ŝāh-e Qājār; 17 July 1831 – 1 May 1896) was the fourth Shah of Qajar Iran from 5 September 1848 to 1 May 1896 when he was assassinated. He was the son of Mohammad Shah Qajar and Malek Jahan Khanom and the third longest reigning monarch in Iranian history after Shapur II of the Sassanid dynasty and Tahmasp I of the Safavid dynasty. Nasser al-Din Shah had sovereign power for close to 51 years.

He was the first modern Persian monarch who formally visited Europe and wrote of his travels in his memoirs. A modernist, he allowed the establishment of newspapers in the country and made use of modern forms of technology such as telegraphs, photography and also planned concessions for railways and irrigation works. Despite his modernizing reforms on education, his tax reforms were abused by people in power, and the government was viewed as corrupt and unable to protect commoners from abuse by the upper class which led to increasing antigovernmental sentiments. He ended up being assassinated when visiting a shrine.


Effectiveness of his early rule[edit]

The state under Naser al-Din was the recognized government of Iran but its authority was undermined by local tribal leaders. The religious and tribal chieftains held quite a bit of autonomy over their communities. Naser al-Din was not effective in implementing his sovereignty over his people. Local groups had their own militias and oftentimes did not obey laws passed by the monarchy since they did not have the power to enforce them. The people followed the ulama's fatwas instead of state issued law. When Naser al-Din took power, his army barely had 3,000 men which was significantly smaller than the armies under various tribal leaders. When the state needed a proper army, he would hire the local militias.[4] Prior to his reforms, Naser's government had very little power over their subjects and even during the reforms, they faced more scrutiny over their ability to implement those reforms successfully.

Diplomacy and wars[edit]

Naser al-Din Shah by Abul Hasan Ghaffari, 1859

Naser al-Din was in Tabriz when he heard of his father's death in 1848,[5] and he ascended to the Sun Throne with the help of Amir Kabir. During his reign he would have to deal with the Revolt of Hasan Khan Salar, as well as insurrections by Babis.

Naser al-Din had early reformist tendencies, but was dictatorial in his style of government. With his sanction, thousands of Bábis were killed, this was in reaction to an assassination attempt from a small group of Bábis.[6] This treatment continued under his prime minister Amir Kabir, who even ordered the execution of the Báb – regarded as a manifestation of God to Bábí's and Baháʼís, and to historians as the founder of the Bábí religion.

Unable to regain the territory in the Caucasus irrevocably lost to Russia in the early 19th century, Naser al-Din sought compensation by seizing Herat, in 1856. Great Britain regarded the move as a threat to British India and declared war on Persia, forcing the return of Herat as well as Persia's recognition of the kingdom of Afghanistan.[7]

Naser al-Din was the first modern Persian monarch to visit Europe in 1873 and then again in 1878 (when he saw a Royal Navy Fleet Review), and finally in 1889 and was reportedly amazed with the technology he saw. During his visit to the United Kingdom in 1873, Naser al-Din Shah was appointed by Queen Victoria a Knight of the Order of the Garter, the highest English order of chivalry. He was the first Persian monarch to be honoured as such. His travel diary of his 1873 trip has been published in several languages, including Persian, German, French, and Dutch.

In 1890 Naser al-Din met British major Gerald F. Talbot and signed a contract with him giving him the ownership of the Persian tobacco industry, but he later was forced to cancel the contract after Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi issued a fatwa that made farming, trading, and consuming tobacco haram (forbidden). Consuming tobacco from the newly monopolized 'Talbet' company represented foreign exploitation, so for that reason it was deemed immoral. It even affected the Shah's personal life as his wives did not allow him to smoke.

This was not the end of Naser al-Din's attempts to give concessions to Europeans; he later gave the ownership of Persian customs incomes to Paul Julius Reuter.[8]


Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, King of Persia. Photography by Nadar in 1881

He defeated various rebels in the Iranian provinces, most notably in Khorasan, he balanced the budget by introducing reforms to the tax system, curbed the power of the clergy in the judiciary, built several military factories, improved relations with other powers to curb British and Russian influence, opened the first newspaper called Vaghaye-Ettefaghieh, embellished and modernized cities (for example by building the Tehran Bazaar) and most importantly opened the first Iranian school for upper education called the Dar ul-Funun where many Iranian intellectuals received their education. However Naser al-Din Shah's reforms were unpopular with some people.[citation needed]

The shah gradually lost interest for reform. However, he took some important measures such as introducing telegraphy and postal services and building roads. He also increased the size of the state's military and created a new group called the Persian Cossack Brigade[9] which was trained and armed by the Russians. He was the first Persian to be photographed and was a patron of photography who had himself photographed hundreds of times. His final prime minister was Ali Asghar Khan, who after the shah's assassination aided in securing the transfer of the throne to Mozaffar al-Din.

The Shah on his European tour, seated with British and Russian royalty in the Royal Albert Hall, London

Although he was successful in introducing these western based reforms, he was not successful in gaining complete sovereignty over his people or getting them to accept these reforms. The school he opened, Dar al-Funun, had very small enrollment numbers. The restrictions defined by Sh'ia Islam on the shah's collection of the zakat led to those funds going straight into the coffers of the ulama. Therefore, the financial autonomy given to the ulama enabled them to remain structurally independent, keeping madrasahs open and supporting the students therein.[10] The ulama also maintained their authority to challenge state law. To fund these new institutions and building projects, Naser repeatedly used tax farming to increase state revenue. Tax collectors routinely abused their power and the government was viewed as corrupt and unable to protect them from abuse by the upper class. This anti-government sentiment increased the ulama's power over the people because they were able to provide them security. Keddie states in her book, Roots of Revolution: An Interpretive History of Modern Iran, that at the time "it was still considered a sign of greater status to be admitted to the ranks of the ulama than it was to become a member of the civil service."[11]

In 1852 Naser al-Din dismissed and executed Amir Kabir, the famous Persian reformer. With him, many believe, died the prospect of an independent Persia led by meritocracy rather than nepotism.

In the later years of his rule, however, Naser al-Din steadfastly refused to deal with the growing pressures for reforms. He also granted a series of concessionary rights to foreigners in return for large payments. In 1872, popular pressure forced him to withdraw one concession involving permission to construct such complexes as railways and irrigation works throughout Persia. He visited Europe in 1873, 1878 and 1889. In 1890, he granted a 50-year concession on the purchase, sale, and processing of all tobacco in the country, which led to a national boycott of tobacco and the withdrawal of the concession. This last incident is considered by many authorities to be the origin of modern Iranian nationalism.


Naser al-Din Shah lying in state in the Tekyeh Dowlat

Naser al-Din was assassinated by Mirza Reza Kermani, a follower of Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, when he was visiting and praying in the Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine on 1 May 1896. It is said that the revolver used to assassinate him was old and rusty, and had he worn a thicker overcoat, or been shot from a longer range, he would have survived the attempt on his life.[12] Shortly before his death, he is reported to have said "I will rule you differently if I survive!" The assassin was prosecuted by the defence minister, Nazm ol-Dowleh.

Nasser-al-Din Shah's assassination and the subsequent execution of Mirza Reza Kermani marked a turning point in Iranian political thought that would ultimately lead to the Iranian Constitutional Revolution during his successor Mozzafar-al-Din Shah's turbulent reign.[13]

Naser al-Din Shah's tombstone, keeping at Golestan Palace. The original tomb is at Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine.

Naser al-Din was buried in the Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine, in Rayy near Tehran, where he was assassinated. His funeral took place six months after his death. A British diplomat who spoke with some who had been present, Charles Hardinge, commented "... the corpse was conveyed on a very high funeral car and was 'high' in more ways than one".[14] His one-piece marble tombstone, bearing his full effigy, is now kept in the Golestan Palace Museum in Tehran.

Artistic and literary interests[edit]

Naser al-Din Shah was very interested in painting and photography. He was a talented painter and, even though he had not been trained, was an expert in pen and ink drawing. Several of his pen and ink drawings survive. He was one of the first photographers in Persia and was a patron of the art. He established a photography studio in Golestan Palace.[15]

Naser al-Din was also a poet. 200 couplets of his were recorded in the preface of Majma'ul Fusahā, a work by Reza-Qoli Khan Hedayat about poets of the Qajar period. He was interested in history and geography and had many books on these topics in his library. He also knew French and English, but was not fluent in either language.[16]

Hekāyāt Pir o Javān (حکایت پیر و جوان; "The Tale of the Old and the Young") was attributed to him by many; it was one of the first Persian stories written in modern European style.[17]

He also wrote the book Diary of H.M. the Shah of Persia during his tour through Europe in A.D. 1873.


Lacquer box depicting a young Qajar prince, perhaps Naser al-Din Shah before his accession to the throne. Created mid-19th century, Isfahan, possibly by Mohammad Esmail Esfahani



  • Princess Afsar od-Dowleh
  • Princess Fakhr ol-Moluk (1847 – 9 April 1878)
  • Princess Ismat al-Doulah (1855 – 3 September 1905)
  • Princess Zi'a os-Saltaneh (1856 – 11 April 1898)[19]
  • Princess Fakhr od-Dowleh (1859–1891)
  • Princess Forugh od-Dowleh (1862–1916)
  • Princess Eftekhar os-Saltaneh (1880–1941)
  • Princess Farah os-Saltaneh (1882 – 17 April 1899)
  • Princess Tadj os-Saltaneh (1883 – 25 January 1936)
  • Princess Ezz os-Saltaneh (1888–1982)[20]
  • Princess Sharafsaltaneh


The Shah in a uniform studded with diamonds from the treasury of the Persian emperors. Often he wore the famous square Darya-ye Noor.



List of premiers[edit]

The king of Persia (Naser al-Din Shah Qajar) sitting on a horse with his entourage of officers, bodyguards, footmen and executioners around him.

Fictional depictions[edit]

  • Naser al-Din Shah is played by Bahram Radan in 2022 tv series Jeyran.
  • Naser al-Din Shah is depicted in 1976 TV series Soltan-e Sahebgharan and also in 1984 TV series Amir Kabir.
  • He is also depicted in 1992 movie Nassereddin Shah, Actor-e Cinema (Once Upon a Time, Cinema) written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf and 1984 Kamal ol-Molk directed by Ali Hatami.
  • He was the inspiration for the main character of the short story De koning 2002 and the novel De koning 2011 by the Persian–Dutch writer Kader Abdolah.
  • It can be inferred from the time period and historical references that Naser al-Din Shah is depicted in the 1990 novel Phantom by Susan Kay which explores the life of the titular character in Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera.
  • In animation form his life depicted by Beate Petersen in Nasseredin Shah and his 84 wives at 2011.
  • Joseph Roth: The tale of the 1002nd night: a novel (1939).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Amanat, Abbas (1997), Pivot of the Universe: Nasir Al-Din Shah Qajar and the Iranian Monarchy, 1831–1896, Comparative studies on Muslim societies, I.B.Tauris, p. 10, ISBN 9781860640971
  2. ^ "Nāṣer al-Dīn Shāh | Qājār Shah of Iran, Assassination & Legacy | Britannica".
  3. ^ Naser al-Din is pronounced as Nāser-ad'din, and less formally as Nāser-ed'din.
  4. ^ William Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 5th edition (Westview, 2012) pg.100
  5. ^ Rabiee, Manizheh (2005). Life of Naser al-Din Shah. Tehran: Muʼassasah-ʼi Farhangī-i Ahl-i Qalam. p. 34. ISBN 9789648084191. OCLC 84660641.
  6. ^ Abbas Amanat. Pivot of the universe: Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar and the Iranian Monarchy, pp. 204–218.
  7. ^ Article from Encyclopædia Britannica
  8. ^ Ādamīyat, Farīdūn; آدميت، فريدون. (2006). Andīshah-ʼi taraqqī va hukūmat-i qānūn ; ʻaṣr-i sipahsālār (Chap̄-i 3 ed.). Tihran: Intisharat-i Khvar̄azmi, ̄. pp. 348–370. ISBN 964-487-090-5. OCLC 677122775.
  9. ^ William Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 5th edition (Westview, 2012) pg.103
  10. ^ Cleveland, William L. "A History of the Modern Middle East" (Westview Press, 2013) pg 104
  11. ^ William Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 5th edition (Westview, 2012) pg 104
  12. ^ Mo'ayeri p. 105
  13. ^ Assassination of Nasser-al-Din Shah
  14. ^ "Old Diplomacy" (1947), by Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, p. 63
  15. ^ Tahmasbpoor, Mohammad-Reza (2008). Nāser-od-din, the Photographer King. Tehran: Nashr-e Tarikh-e Iran. ISBN 964-6082-16-5
  16. ^ Mo'ayeri p. 30
  17. ^ Mansuri, Kurosh(2006). Hekāyāte Pir Va Javān. Tehran: Motale'at Tarikh. ISBN 964-6357-69-5
  18. ^ Children of Naser al-Din Shah
  19. ^ Zi'a es-Saltaneh married Seyed Zeyn-ol-Abedin Emam Jome'eh. Her daughter, Zia Ashraf Emami married Mohammad Mosaddegh
  20. ^ Mo'ayeri pp. 16–17
  21. ^ a b c Buyers, Christopher, "Nishan-i-Tamtal-i-Humayun – The Decoration of the Imperial Portrait", The Qajar dynasty orders & decorations, archived from the original on 23 April 2003, retrieved 30 August 2021
  22. ^ Gritzner, Maximilian (2000). Handbuch der Ritter- und Verdienstorden aller Kulturstaaten der Welt (in German). Leipzig: Holzminden Reprint-Verlag. pp. 327–334. ISBN 9783826207051.
  23. ^ "Ritter-Orden: Königlich-ungarischer St. Stephans-Orden", Hof- und Staatshandbuch der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie, 1895, p. 66, retrieved 29 August 2021
  24. ^ Hof- und Staats-Handbuch des Großherzogtum Baden (1896), "Großherzogliche Orden" pp. 63, 77
  25. ^ Hof- und - Staatshandbuch des Königreichs Bayern (1890), "Königliche Orden". p. 9
  26. ^ "Liste des Membres de l'Ordre de Léopold", Almanach Royal Officiel (in French), 1858, p. 50 – via Archives de Bruxelles
  27. ^ Italia : Ministero dell'interno (1884). Calendario generale del Regno d'Italia. Unione tipografico-editrice. p. 47.
  28. ^ "Königlich Preussische Ordensliste", Preussische Ordens-Liste (in German), Berlin, 1: 11, 34, 1877
  29. ^ Sveriges statskalender (PDF) (in Swedish), 1895, p. 406, retrieved 29 August 2021 – via
  30. ^ Wm. A. Shaw, The Knights of England, Volume I (London, 1906) p. 65
  31. ^ Württemberg (Kingdom). Statistisches Landesamt (1894). Staatshandbuch für Württemberg. Druck von W. Kohlhammer. p. 29.


  • Amanat, Abbas (2004). Pivot of the universe. Tehran: Karnameh. ISBN 964-431-049-7.
  • Clay, Catrine (2006). King, Kaiser, Tsar. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-6536-6.
  • Mo'ayeri, Dustali (1982). Some notes from private life of Nasser al-Din Shah. Tehran: Nashr-e Tarikh-e Iran.

Further reading[edit]

  • Grobien, Philip Henning (2023). "Modernity, Borders and Maps: Iran's Ability to Advocate for its Borders During the Reign of Naser al-Din Shah". Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies. 61 (2): 285–298. doi:10.1080/05786967.2021.1895672. S2CID 233775219.

External links[edit]

Naser al-Din Shah Qajar
Born: 16 July 1831 Died: 1 May 1896
Iranian royalty
Preceded by Shah of Iran
Succeeded by