ASTARĀBĀDĪ, MĪRZĀ (MOḤAMMAD) MAHDĪ KHAN B. MOḤAMMAD-NAṢĪR, court secretary and historiographer to Nāder Shah Afšār (r. 1148-60/1736-47).
Despite his position as an eminent public figure and scholar during the reign of Nāder Shah, little is known for certain of the life of Mīrzā Mahdī, not even the dates of his birth and death. The pen-name Kawkab or Kawkabī, by which he is sometimes called, is also in dispute (Šahīdī, p. md). The son of one Moḥammad Naṣīr, he presumably trained as a civil servant under the late Safavids; though it is not recorded if and when he left his native Astarābād for the capital of Isfahan. If we are to believe documents reproduced in his Monšaʾāt (see Anwār, pp. seh, panǰ; Šahīdī, p. mǰ), he was appointed in his youth to a sinecure in the royal household at Isfahan, and wrote a formal congratulation to Nāder on his capture of the capital in 1142/1729. He served Nāder for the next seventeen years, until the end of his reign (1160/1747), first as head of the secretariat (monšī-al-mamālek) until Nāder’s coronation at Moḡān in 1148/1736, then as his official biographer and historiographer (wāqeʿa-nevīs). During this time he was responsible for composing victory dispatches (fatḥ-nāma), preambles to treaties, and other state documents. He was present at the private meeting of Nāder Shah with the Mughal emperor Moḥammad Shah, during which the latter presented him with a diamond of unequaled beauty and luster. The diamond was later taken from him by Nāder Shah (Sir Harford Jones Bridges, The Dynasty of the Kajars, rep. New York, 1973, p. clxxxi).
Early in 1160/1747 he was sent, together with Moṣṭafā Khan Bīgdelī Šāmlū, as ambassador to the Ottoman court, in order to ratify the peace treaty concluded in the previous year. They had only reached Baghdad when news arrived of Nāder’s death. The embassy was discontinued, but nothing is known of Mīrzā Mahdī’s subsequent career. He may have gone on pilgrimage to Mecca before returning, either to Mašhad, to Māzandarān, or to Tabrīz (see Anwār, p. haft; Šahīdī, pp. lṭ, mw). Evidently he retired from public life to complete the historical and philological works he had been compiling during his service with Nāder. He died some time between 1172/1759 and 1182/1768 (see Lockhart, Nadir Shah, p. 294 n. 1).
His three main works are his histories of Nāder; the ornate Dorra-ye nādera and the more prosaic Jahāngošāy-e nāderī; and Sanglāḵ, a Persian guide to the Turkish (i.e. Čaḡatāy) language. There is also the Mabāni ’l-loḡa, a Turkish grammar which is properly a part of his Sanglāḵ, and the Monšaʾāt-e Mahdī, a miscellany of his chancellery compositions. His Dorra-ye nādera was written in the abstruse and florid style popularized by the Il-khanid historian Waṣṣāf, replete with rhymed prose and Arabic quotations. The Jahāngošāy, though simpler in style, is somewhat distorted by an expedient eulogy and whitewashing of his patron. Nevertheless, the latter work was widely admired and imitated by younger historians such as Mīrzā Ṣādeq Nāmī (Tārīḵ-egītīgošā). It was translated (not quite accurately) into French by Sir William Jones (Histoire de Nader Shah, traduite du Persan par ordre de sa Majesté le Roi de Dennemark, London, 1770); this translation was itself later translated into German and Georgian.
Works by Mīrzā Mahdī Astarābādī: Dorra-ye nādera, ed. S. J. Šahīdī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962-63.
Jahāngošāy-e nāderī, ed. S. ʿA. Anwār, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962-63.
Mabāni ’l-loḡa, ed. E. Denison Ross, Calcutta, 1910.
Monšaʾāt-e Mahdī, Tehran, 1285/1868-69.
Sanglāḵ, ed. Sir Gerard Clauson (GMS, N.S. 20), London, 1960.
See also L. Lockhart, Nadir Shah, London, 1968, pp. 292-96.
(J. R. Perry)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 17, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 8, pp. 844-845