Only after much hesitation and several tentative experiments have I decided to endeavour to compress into one chapter two centuries of Persian history. Were this book primarily intended as a political history of Persia, such an attempt would be out of the question; for this long period witnessed the Afghán invasion and its devastations; the rise, meteoric career, and sudden eclipse of that amazing conqueror Nádir Sháh; the emergence in a world of chaos and misery of Karím Khán-i-Zand, generally accounted the best ruler whom Persia ever possessed, and of his gallant but unfortunate successor Luṭf-'Alí Khán; the establishment of the still reigning Qájár dynasty, and within that period the occurrence, amidst many other important events, of two remarkable phenomena (the rise and growth of the Bábí religious movement since 1844, and the political Revolution of 1906) which profoundly affected the intellectual life and literary development of Persia, each one of which might well form the subject of a lengthy monograph rather than a chapter. This book, however, is written not from the political but from the literary point of view, and the historical part of it is only ancillary, and might have been omitted entirely if a knowledge of even the general outlines of Oriental history formed part of the mental equipment of most educated Europeans. From this point of view much fuller treatment is required for periods of transition, or of great intellectual activity, than for periods of unproductive strife not so much of rival ideas and beliefs as of conflicting ambitions. To the latter category belongs the greater part of the two centuries which must now engage our attention. During this period the literary language (which, indeed, had become fixed at any rate in the fourteenth century, so that the odes of Ḥáfiẓ, save for their incomparable beauty, might have been written but yesterday) underwent no noticeable change; few fresh forms of literary expression were developed until the middle of the nineteenth century; and few fresh ideas arose to modify the Shí'a frenzy of Ṣafawí times until the rise of the Bábí doctrine in A.D. 1844, of which, however, the literary effects were less considerable than those of the Revolution of 1906. Moreover excellent and detailed accounts of the Afghán invasion, of Nádir Sháh, and of the earlier Qájár period already exist in English, several of which have been mentioned at the end of the preceding chapter; * these could hardly be bettered, and would only be marred by such abridgment as would be necessary to fit them into the framework of this book. Hence I have deemed it best to limit myself in this chapter to a brief outline of the more salient events of these last two centuries.
Unlike the Arabs, Mongols, Tartars and Turks, who were instrumental in effecting previous subjections of Persia by Character of the Afgháns. foreign arms, the Afgháns are, apparently, an Íránian and therefore a kindred race, though differing materially in character from the Persians. The Persian language is widely spoken in their wild and mountainous country, while in their own peculiar idiom, the Pushtô, James Darmesteter saw the principal survivor of the language of the Avesta, the scripture of the Zoroastrians. They are a much fiercer, hardier, and more warlike people than the Persians, less refined and ingenious, and fanatical Sunnís, a fact sufficient in itself to explain the intense antagonism which existed between the two nations, and enabled the Afgháns to give to their invasion of Persia the colour of a religious war.
In A.D. 1707 Qandahár, a constant bone of contention between the Ṣafawí kings of Persia and the “Great Moghuls”Beginning of the trouble at Qandahár. of India, was in the possession of the former, and was governed in a very autocratic manner by a Georgian noble named Gurgín Khán. Mír Ways, an Afghán chief whose influence with his fellow-
Having sown this seed of suspicion and completely ingratiated himself with the Persian Court, Mír Ways Mír Ways at Mecca. sought and obtained permission to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. While there he took another important step for the furtherance of his designs. He sought from the leading ecclesiastical authorities a fatwá, or legal opinion, as to whether the orthodox Sunní subjects of a heretical (i.e. Shí'a) Muslim ruler were bound to obey him, or were justified, if occasion arose, in resisting him, if necessary by force of arms. The decision, which supported the latter alternative and so accorded with his designs, he carried back with him to Iṣfahán and subsequently to Qandahár, whither he was permitted to return, with strong recommendations to Gurgín Khán, in 1709. There he soon organized a conspiracy against the latter, and, taking advantage of the temporary absence of a large part of the Persian garrison on some expedition in the neighbourhood, he and his followers fell on the remainder when they were off their guard, killed the greater number of them, including Gurgín Khán, and took possession of the city. It was at this juncture that the fatwá obtained at Mecca proved so useful to Mír Ways, for by it he was able to overcome the scruples of the more faint-hearted of his followers, who were at first inclined to shrink from a definite repudiation of Persian suzerainty, but who now united with the more hot-headed of their countrymen in electing Mír Ways “Prince of Qandahár and General of the national troops.”*
Several half-hearted attempts to subdue the rebellious city having failed, the Persian Government despatched Success of the rebels. Khusraw Khán, nephew of the late Gurgín Khán, with an army of 30,000 men to effect its subjugation, but in spite of an initial success, which led the Afgháns to offer to surrender on terms, his uncompromising attitude impelled them to make a fresh desperate effort, resulting in the complete defeat of the Persian army (of whom only some 700 escaped) and the death of their general. Two years later, in A.D. 1713, another Persian army commanded by Rustam Khán was also defeated by the rebels, who thus secured possession of the whole province of Qandahár.
Mír Ways, having thus in five or six years laid the foundations of the Afghán power, died in A.D. 1715, and was succeeded by his brother Mír 'Abdu'lláh, whose disposition Mír Ways succeeded by his son Mír Maḥmúd. to accept, under certain conditions, Persian suzerainty led to his murder by his nephew Mír Maḥmúd, son of Mír Ways, who was forthwith proclaimed king. The weakness of the Persian government thus becoming apparent, others were Other revolts against Persia. led to follow the example of the Afgháns of Qandahár. Amongst these were the Abdálí Afgháns of Herát, the Uzbeks of Transoxiana, the Kurds, the Lazgís and the Arabs of Baḥrayn, and though the Persian General Ṣafí-qulí Khán with 30,000 troops succeeded in defeating an Uzbek army of 12,000 he was immediately afterwards defeated by the Abdáli Afgháns.
In A.D. 1720 Mír Maḥmúd assumed the aggressive, crossed the deserts of Sístán, and attacked and occupied Kirmán,Kirmán taken by Afgháns. whence, however, he was expelled four months later by the Persian General Luṭf-'Alí Khán, who, after this victory, proceeded to Shíráz and began to organize “the best-appointed army that had been seen in Persia for many years” with a view to crushing the Afgháns and retaking Qandahár. Unfortunately before he had accomplished this his position was undermined by one of those Court intrigues which were so rapidly destroying the Persian Empire, and he was deprived of his command and brought as a prisoner to Iṣfahán, while the army which he had collected and disciplined with such care rapidly melted away, and the spirits of the Afgháns were proportionately revived. The capture and sack of Shamákhí by the Lazgís and the appearance of strange portents in the sky combined still further to discourage the Persians, while the ordering of public mourning and repentance by Sháh Ḥusayn tended only to accentuate the general depression.