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Parsa, Mohammad Amir Hakimi (2023) Iranian Identity and Imperial State Formation ca. 1720–1750. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The study argues that in the eighteenth century, for the first time since the fall of the Sāsānids in late antiquity, the ideology of the imperial state in Iran came to be dominated by discourses on Iranian identity. A collective Iranian identity emerged among the Shi’i elites which was rooted in a sense of territorial belonging to the imperial realm of Iran and a sectarian differentiation of the Shi’i self from the Sunni other. This identity permeated the ideologies of various leaders who sought to topple the Hotakids and establish their own state. Foremost among the Hotakids’ opponents, Ṭahmāsp II Ṣafavi portrayed himself as the saviour of Iran and Iranians, establishing a decentralised state with the aid of Nāder, his vassal and commander-in-chief. Nāder utilised his military victories to undermine Ṭahmāsp’s ideology by presenting himself as Iran’s true saviour, eventually usurping the crown from the Ṣafavids altogether. Nāder Shāh’s discourse on collective identity gave him a special role as the custodian of his fellow Iranians, legitimating his centralisation of administrative powers over what he referred to as the ‘Iranian state’. The centralisation of revenues facilitated the establishment of an effective military, enabling Nāder to conquer neighbouring realms to form an empire in pursuit, supposedly, of Iranian interests. Thus, for its subjects in Iran, the Nāderid state legitimated its political, military, and administrative policies in reference to a collective Iranian identity. As Nāder incorporated Sunni peoples and lands beyond Iran’s frontiers into his empire, he revised his ideological discourse on Iranian identity to eschew Shi’i-Sunni sectarianism while developing a complimentary discourse on universal sovereignty. Nonetheless, the contrast between Iran and non-Iran endured and was reflected in the administrative structure of the empire: While Iranian territories were placed under increasingly centralised administration, control over the empire’s non-Iranian lands was devolved to local vassals. Those vassals, whether shāhs or sultans, were made to pay tribute to Nāder, the shāhanshāh. The imperial conquests of the Nāderid state, purportedly in service of Iranian interests, did not necessarily endear it to the Iranian elite. They saw their powers heavily restricted by the Nāderid state’s centralisation programme while a growing number of non-Iranian Sunnis were given access to the same positions as their Iranian counterparts, particularly in the imperial army. This formed the ideological and institutional basis for many of Iran’s elites to question Nāder’s Iranianness, and by extension, the legitimacy of his state. From the mid-1740s many Iranians rose up in numerous rebellions which eventually led to the collapse of Nāder’s imperial state and his assassination in 1747

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Roy Fischel, James Caron and Michael Charney
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2023 15:30

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