Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces

By Steven R. Ward | Go to book overview

2

Powerful Predecessors

The Safavids and Nader Shah

IN THE PERIOD BETWEEN TAMERLANE and the late eighteenth century, Iran was home to one more great empire and to the last great Asian conqueror. The Safavid dynasty (1501–1760), which made Persia once again a center of high civilization and wealth, joined Persian culture to the creed of Shia Islam, which has ever since defined and inspired Iran as a nation. The Safavids built the first Persian army to incorporate gunpowder weapons and set the stage for increased interaction with the West and the Persian military's conquests under Na der Shah. The wars of the Safavids and Na der Shah demonstrated again how Iran's military fortunes and traditions have been shaped by the interplay of politics and religion. In addition, the repeated problems with adopting and adapting to new means of warfare hindered the Safavids, but were eventually overcome by Na der Shah. The armed forces developed during this period were strongly shaped by the ongoing dilemma over building effective forces that were loyal to the crown, but not so strong that praetorianism or military coups threatened the monarchs' power.


Islam and Iran

A brief review of Islam's development is necessary to understand Iran's military history since the sixteenth century. The split between Sunni and Shia Islam began as a dispute within the early Muslim community over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad as temporal and spiritual leader following his death in 632. Those Muslims who would later be called Sunnis believed that the Prophet did not designate a successor, or caliph, and that it was up to the community of believers to select their leader based on his integrity, honesty, and righteousness. Other Muslims, however, believed that the Prophet wanted his successors to come from his household's bloodline. This group favored Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin, as the rightful heir and leader. They became know as partisans of Ali, Shi'at Ali in Arabic or, more simply, Shia. The Shia believe that the

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Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Heritage of Greatness, Legacy of Loss 11
  • 2: Powerful Predecessors 41
  • 3: Laughingstock 61
  • 4: Nationalism Unleashed 91
  • 5: Two Paths 125
  • 6: Sidelined 151
  • 7: Cold War Pillar 181
  • 8: Old Guard, New Guard 211
  • 9: Horrible Sacrifice 242
  • 10: Despise Not Your Enemy 299
  • Notes 327
  • Bibliography 349
  • Index 363
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