Timeline: Zand {1740-1794}

Founded by Karim Khan Zand (r. 1750-79/1164-93 AH), the Zandieh ruled Iran (excluding Khorasan) for nearly fifty years following the downfall of the Afsharids. Karim Khan was the chief of a tribe of Laks [northern Lors] deported by Nāder Shah (r.1736-47/1148-59 AH) from the Zagros Mountains to Khorasan to serve in his army, rising through the ranks to serve as general.

Despite gains in territory and the acquisition of prize booty such as the Mughal peacock throne, Nāder Shah was regarded as an oppressive tyrant. His brief and tumultuous reign ended when he was murdered by his troops in 1747/1159 AH. In the wake of a fractured Iran following Nāder Shah’s assassination, Karim Khan became one of several contenders for control of the country.

When Nāder Shah’s successors failed to regain control of Western Iran, Karim Khan and three rival chieftains took control of the former Safavid capital of Isfahan in 1750/1164 AH. Under the figurehead of Ismail III, the grandson of the last official Safavid King, the alliance lasted briefly from 1750-51/1164-5 AH until a series of coups shifted the power from the hands of one faction to another.

From 1751-1763/1164-1178 AH, Karim Khan struggled to maintain power against the Qajar and Afsharid oppositions, but eventually prevailed. By 1764/1178 AH, he had successfully established rule in all of Iran with the exception of Khorasan, which remained under Afsharid control by Nader Shah’s grandson, Shahrokh. The constant threat of Ottoman and Afghan forces at the Iranian borders was contained under Karim Khan’s reign, and from 1765-79/1179-93 AH he ruled from his capital at Shiraz.

Karim Khan took the title of Wakil al-ra ‘aya (Regent of the Subjects), the term for a local official. His refusal of the loftier title of ShahanShah, or King of Kings, used by former dynasties ingratiated him both to his subjects, the regional governors, and Safavid Ismail III, who predeceased Karim Khan in 1773/1187 AH.

Known as a compassionate ruler and a great patron of the arts, Karim Khan’s legacy still stands in Shiraz. With the ancient city in a state of urban decline following the Afghan invasions and the rebellion against Nāder Shah by its governor, Shiraz was in great need of refurbishment. Following the Safavid example at Isfahan, Karim Khan began an ambitious building program in 1766 that included a mosque, a palace, and a bazaar around a central square known as the Maidan-i Wakil. The Masjid-i Wakīl or Regent’s Mosque, at the south end of the complex, is a congregational mosque with a square court and iwans on the north and south entrances. Behind the mosque is a public bath, with a vaulted brick bazaar to its east. The Arg (Citadel) is situated at the north end of the complex.

Karim Khan’s program included a revival of decorative arts, from elaborate haft rang-ī tiles with naturalistic floral themes, to large-scale oil paintings adorning the palace walls. Scenes depicting the Zand court include portraits featuring shading, modeling and drapery after European examples, setting a precedent for portraiture during the Qajar period.

The Maidan-i Wakil’s main square is flanked by two impressive garden complexes, dedicated to state use during the Zand period: Divankhane and Nazar. The pavilion in the latter has been the home of the Pars Museum since the 1930s. Historical gardens such as the Jahan Nama, Haft Tanan, and Chehel Tanan were also renovated. The gardens function partly as cemeteries and are located north of the tomb of fourteenth-century mystic poet Hāfez, also refurbished during the Zand dynasty along with the tomb of thirteenth-century lyric poet Sa ‘di.

Karim Khan also revived trade and agriculture in Western Iran, relieving the agricultural class of heavy taxation. Commercial agreements with the English East India Company allowed them to establish a trading post at the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr in 1763/1177 AH. Ultimately, Karim Khan would personify the dynasty’s accomplishments, maintaining the longest period of civil tranquility in the eighteenth century.

Following his death in 1779/1193 AH, Karim Khan’s successors were unable to maintain long-term power. From 1779-89/1193-1204 AH, five Zand kings ruled until Loṭf ‘Ali Khan (r.1789-94/1204-09 AH) took the throne, railing against a rebellion led by ­Āghā Moḥammad Khan Qajar. Overrun by superior forces, this final Zand king was defeated at Kerman in 1794/1209 AH, and the Qajars gained control of the country.

--Nazanin Hedayat Munroe

Suggestions for further reading

Asadpour, Ali et al. “Typology of Iranian Gardens During Zand Dynasty (1750-1794) in Shiraz, Iran.” Elixir Historic Preservation 44 (2012): 7347-7353.

Avery, Peter et al. The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Perry, John R. Karim Khan Zand (Makers of the Muslim World). Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006.

Perry, John R. “Zand Dynasty.” In Encyclopedia Iranica. Last modified March 15, 2010. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/zand-dynasty

Sykes, Sir Percy Molesworth. A History of Persia. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1915.


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