ZAND DYNASTY (1164-1209/1751-94), a dynasty that ruled in Persia (excluding Khorasan) from Shiraz, from the time when Nāder Shah’s (r. 1736-47) successors, the Afsharids, failed to recover western Persia until the founding of the Qajar dynasty by Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār (r. 1779-97).

Karim Khan, ‘the Wakil’ (1164-93/1751-79). The founder of the dynasty was Moḥammad Karim Khan b. Ināq Khan (Figure 1; commonly known as Karim Khan Zand) of the Bagala branch of the Zand, a pastoral tribe of the Lak branch of Lors (perhaps originally Kurds; see Minorsky, p. 616), with winter ranges on the Hamadan plains near Malāyer and summer pastures in the Zagros slopes north of Kermanshah. He and many of his tribe had been deported to Khorasan in 1144/1732 by Nāder Shah and served in the latter’s army. Soon after Nāder’s assassination in 1160/1747, Karim Khan led his people home. In alliance with ʿAli-Mardān Khan Baḵtiāri, he captured Isfahan in 1163/1750 and installed a Safavid puppet ruler, Shah Esmāʿil III (r. 1750-65, d. 1773). The next year, Karim Khan defeated a bid by ʿAli-Mardān Khan for sole power, and adopted his rival’s title of wakil-al-dowla (‘deputy of the state,’ or regent). After defeating three other contestants for power, he pacified most of western and central Persia from the Caspian littoral and Azerbaijan to Kerman and Lār (Ḡaffāri, pp. 42-199), and ruled at Shiraz from 1179/1765 until his death in 1193/1779.

Throughout his life, Karim Khan never assumed the title of king (šāh), but was known as the wakil (‘deputy’). Moreover, he further interpreted this title as wakil-al-raʿāyāʾ (‘deputy of the subjects’), which was the term for a local official appointed by the shah to investigate crimes and complaints of government abuse (Donboli, 1970-71, II, p. 31; Perry, 2007, pp. 41-43). The Safavid Esmāʿil III predeceased him in 1187/1773, and the fiction of a Safavid revival was quietly dropped. Karim Khan did not attempt to recover the Afsharid Khorasan which became a tributary of the Afghan monarch Aḥmad-Šāh Dorrāni (r. 1747-73; see AFGHANISTAN x).

Karim Khan devoted his efforts to reviving trade and agriculture in Fārs and western Persia. He rebuilt Shiraz (Ḡaffāri, pp. 355-58), concluded commercial agreements with the British East India Company (see EAST INDIA COMPANY [THE BRITISH]) at Bušehr, and in 1775-79 he besieged and occupied Basra in Ottoman Iraq. He never fully subjugated the Qajars of Astarābād, and on his death Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār, his hostage for sixteen years, escaped from Shiraz and began to consolidate Qajar power in the north of Persia.

From Ṣādeq Khan to Jaʿfar Khan (1193–1204/1779–89). None of Karim Khan’s five successors formally adopted his title of ‘deputy’ (wakil), nor did they take that of ‘shah.’ The first three of them ruled nominally for one of Karim Khan’s sons, and the last two are referred to in Persian sources by a conventional imperial epithet or simply as ‘khan,’ but often as ‘the king’ by European observers (see Fasāʾi, tr. Brydges, pp. cxxv-clxxxv, passim). Karim Khan had probably expected his capable younger brother and lieutenant, Moḥammad-Ṣādeq Khan (known as Ṣādeq Khan), to succeed him, since his two adult sons, Abu’l-Fatḥ (see ABU’L-FATḤ KHAN ZAND) and Moḥammad-ʿAli, were incompetent to rule. However, Ṣādeq Khan was administering Basra and did not return in time to forestall his rivals among the leading Zand khans. Karim Khan’s half-brother Zaki Khan, allied with ʿAli-Morād Khan Zand of the Hazāra branch of the Zand and ostensibly proclaiming Karim Khan’s son Moḥammad-ʿAli (who was also Zaki Khan’s son-in-law), treacherously killed Naẓar-ʿAli Khan and Šayḵ-ʿAli Khan of the Zand-e Bagala and their supporters, who had battened onto Abu’l-Fatḥ, the eldest son of Karim Khan (see dynastic table; Ḡaffāri, pp. 374-83). On Ṣādeq Khan’s arrival at Shiraz he was deserted by his army, when Zaki Khan threatened reprisals on their families in Shiraz, and fled to Bam.

In 1779 Zaki Khan sent ʿAli-Morād Khan Zand in pursuit of Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār who had fled from Shiraz to Māzandarān, but ʿAli-Morād Khan rebelled at Isfahan in the name of Abu’l-Fatḥ. Marching against him, Zaki Khan committed such atrocities at the village of Izadḵᵛāst that his own men mutinied and killed him. Ṣādeq Khan was thus enabled to return and occupy Shiraz, but he was still opposed by ʿAli-Morād Khan. The latter was joined by Zaki Khan’s youngest son Akbar Khan Zand, and after an eight-month blockade Shiraz fell by treachery in February 1781. On ʿAli-Morad Khan’s order, Akbar Khan killed the two surviving sons of Karim Khan (Abu’l-Fatḥ and Moḥammad-ʿAli), as well as Ṣādeq Khan together with all his sons except Jaʿfar Khan, who had come to terms privately with ʿAli-Morād Khan. However, ʿAli-Morād Khan soon became suspicious of Akbar Khan’s ambitions and inspired Jaʿfar Khan to avenge his father and brothers by putting Akbar Khan to death in 1782 (Ḡaffāri, pp. 466-71).

ʿAli-Morād Khan (r. 1781-85) was faced with a resurgence of Qajar power and established his capital strategically at Isfahan. He campaigned energetically in Māzandarān, but Jaʿfar Khan took advantage of his absence to march on Isfahan. Hastening to defend his capital in midwinter while ill, ʿAli-Morād Khan died at Murčaḵur in February 1785. His reign, which saw the Zands relinquish claims to Persia north of Isfahan, may be seen as the watershed between Zand and Qajar history (Ḡaffāri, pp. 471-693).

Jaʿfar Khan (r. 1785-89), through his energetic son Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, subdued Lār and Kerman and re-occupied Isfahan, but he was driven out twice by Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār and fell back on Shiraz. His treachery in dealing with his own supporters provoked a mutiny, led by Ṣeyd-Morād Khan, the cousin of ʿAli-Morād Khan of the Zand-e Hazāra, in which Jaʿfar Khan was killed (Ḡaffāri, pp. 693-756). Ṣeyd-Morād Khan sent a force under his brother Šāh-Morād against Jaʿfar Khan’s son Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, who was then at Kerman, but these troops mutinied and Loṭf-ʿAli Khan was able to return to Shiraz, which the city’s mayor (kalāntar) Ḥāji Ebrāhim (1745-1800 or 1801; see EBRĀHĪM KALĀNTAR ŠIRĀZI) had secured in his favor (Ḡaffāri, pp. 756-60).

Loṭf-ʿAli Khan (1204-09/1789-94). Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, Jaʿfar Khan’s young son (b. 1182/1769), was the only one of Karim Khan’s successors to win admiration for his courage and integrity (see Fasāʾi, tr. Brydges, pp. cxx–cxci; Malcolm, II, pp. 175-201). Having recovered Shiraz from the mutineers, he then held it against a determined Qajar assault. His downfall was precipitated by a mutual distrust between him and Ḥāji Ebrāhim. On his way to attack Isfahan in 1206/1791, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan was deserted by most of his army on the instigation of Ḥāji Ebrāhim’s brother (commanding the infantry), and on racing back to Shiraz he found the city in the hands of Ḥāji Ebrāhim. Denied help from Bušehr, the Zand leader nevertheless continued, with the few troops still loyal to him and a few Arab levies, to fight off the Qajar advance on Shiraz, which Ḥāji Ebrāhim had offered to surrender to Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār. The latter finally entered Shiraz on 1 Ḏu’l-Ḥejja 1206/21 July 1792 (Kuhmarraʾi in Golestāna, pp. 353-54). Ḥāji Ebrāhim later became the first grand vizier (ṣadr-e aʿẓam) and a major political figure of the early Qajar period.

Loṭf-ʿAli Khan surprised Kerman in 1794 and held it for four months before the Qajars were admitted by treachery. He then fled to Bam, whose governor seized him and handed him over to the Qajars. Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār had his last Zand enemy blinded and cruelly tortured before taking him back to Tehran for execution in Rabiʿ II 1209/November 1794. This marked the end of Zand rule, although Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qājār was not formally crowned until 1796, and even in the following year, after his death, Zaki Khan Zand’s son Moḥammad Khan Zand with a Bājalān tribal army unsuccessfully attempted to seize power from the Qajars (Donboli, 1927 and 1972 pp. 33-35, 39; Donboli, tr. Brydges, pp. 46-48, 57-58).

The dynasty’s reputation rests on its founder Karim Khan, who was able not only to weld together an army from the different Iranian pastoral tribes of the Zagros but also to build a measure of trust and some lasting alliances with the bureaucrats and magnates of the major cities of western and southern Persia (Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Kerman). His shrewd economic policies and notable humanity are recorded in many popular anecdotes. His successors destroyed his achievements through their internecine warfare; they could not inspire confidence in the urban establishment, as typified by Ḥāji Ebrāhim, and so forfeited the Zand mandate to the Qajars.




Moḥammad-Hāšem Āṣaf [Rostam-al-Ḥokamāʾ], Rostam al-tawāriḵ, ed. M. Moširi, Tehran, 1969; tr. B. Hoffmann as Persische Geschichte 1694-1835 erlebt, erinnert und erfunden. Das Rustam at-tawārī˙ in deutscher Bearbeitung, 2 vols., Bamberg, 1986.

ʿAbd-al-Razzāq ‘Maftun’ Donboli, Maʾāṯer-e solṭāniya, Tehran, 1927 (lithograph); 1972 (offset); tr. Sir Harford Jones Brydges as The Dynasty of the Kadjars, London, 1833; repr. New York, 1973 (includes original “Preliminary Matter” by Brydges, pp. xiii–cxci).

Idem, Tajrebat al-aḥrār wa tasleyat al-abrār, ed. Ḥasan Qāżi Ṭabāṭabāʾi, 2 vols., Tehran, 1970-71.

Ḥājj Mirzā Ḥasan Ḥosayni Fasāʾi, Fārs-nāma-ye Nāṣeri, ed. M. Rastgār, 2 vols., Tehran, 1367 Š./1988, esp. vol. I, pp. 227-39; tr. H. Busse as History of Persia under Qajar Rule, New York, 1972, esp. pp. 2-63.

Abu’l-Ḥasan Ḡaffāri, Golšan-e morād, ed. Ḡolām-Reżā Ṭabāṭabāʾi-Majd, Tehran, 1990 (up to the year 1785).

Abu’l-Ḥasan Golestāna, Mojmal al-tawāriḵ, ed. Modarres Rażavi, Tehran, 1970 (with supplement by Kuhmarraʾi, up to the year 1789).

Mirzā Moḥammad Kalāntar, Ruz-nāma-ye Mirzā Moḥammad kalāntar-e Fārs, ed. ʿAbbās Eqbāl, Tehran, 1946.


Gavin H. R. Hambly, “Āghā Muḥammad Khān and the Establishment of the Qājār Dynasty,” Camb. Hist. Iran VII, 1991, pp. 104-43.

J.Malcolm, A History of Persia, 2 vols., London, 1829, esp. vol. II, chap. 17.

Vladimir Minorsky, “Lak,” EI² V, 1986, p. 616.

John R. Perry, “The Last Ṣafavids, 1722-1773,” Iran 9, 1971, pp. 59-69.

Idem, Karim Khan Zand. A History of Iran 1747–1779, Chicago, 1979.

Idem, “The Zand Dynasty,” Camb. Hist. Iran VII, 1991, pp. 63-103; map of Persia under the Zand dynasty on pp. 70-71, dynastic table on p. 961.

Idem, “Zand,” EI² XI, 2002, pp. 443-44.

Idem, “The Vakil al-ra’âyâ: a Pre-modern Iranian Ombudsman,” in Iran und iranisch geprägte Kulturen: Studien zu Ehren von Bert G. Fragner; überreicht an seinem 65. Geburtstag (Beiträge zur Iranistik), ed. B. Hoffmann, R. Kauz, and M. Ritter, Wiesbaden, 2007, pp. 41-50.

A. H. Zarrinkoob, “Karīm Ḵẖān Zand,” EI² IV, 1978, pp. 639-40.

(John Perry)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: March 15, 2010

Cite this entry:

John Perry, “ZAND DYNASTY,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 19 May 2016).