History of Iranian Rule over Persian Gulf

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mohammad Bahmani Qajar

Researchers of Iranian history have found new documents about the historical backdrop of the Persian Gulf. The discovery, which has been reflected by mass media, is auspicious because they provide a good response to some disputes raised by certain Western circles about the name and identity of the Persian Gulf.

The present paper will review the said documents. The history of the Persian Gulf abounds with this name and a map, which dates back to the time of Mozaffareddin Shah, that is, some 116 years ago. The map clearly shows the Persian Gulf under the names “Iranian Gulf” or “Sea of Bushehr” or “Persian Gulf”.

Interestingly, the map has been confirmed by Lord Curzon, the then British foreign minister, and the map has been drawn up by geographical center of London.

The Persian Gulf waterway has been of high importance since ancient times due to its economic role as well as geographical and political significance for all peoples living around it. About the time that the Aryans settled in the Iranian plateau, which took place during the second and first millennia B.C., this waterway has been called the Persian Gulf and its shores have been inhabited by Iranians who gradually settled throughout Iran and caused prosperous economic relations between the Persian Gulf and the rest of the world. Since the beginning of their presence in this sacred land, Iranians found out about importance of “Persian Sea” and tried to secure their dominance over it. Therefore, Cyrus the Great established the biggest marine base in Bahrain and Iranians were the first nation to build up the most powerful navy in the Persian Gulf. After Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., since the establishment of a powerful navy and trade fleet was of high significance to the insipient Achaemenid rule, Bahrain was turned into a marine base for Iran in the Persian Gulf. He also built a residence near the present day Bushehr and later, the Achaemenids built a city called “The Uke” at the same place. The tablets of Persepolis usually mention delegations which frequented the region in the time of Darius the Great. Iranians were the first nation to engage on trade through the Persian Gulf, so that Darius ordered Darius Canal (Suez Canal) to be made between the Red Sea and Mediterranean in order to establish a marine route from the Persian Gulf to major countries of that time like Egypt and littoral countries of the Mediterranean.

Afterwards, the coastal areas of the Persian Gulf and Bahrain were run by Achaemenid princes who ruled over Fars and Kerman.

Under the Ashkanid dynasty, Iranians dominated the Persian Gulf and its islands. Mohammad ibn Jarir Tabari, the Iranian historian, has referred in his book to Arabs who were pressured by black people in Hijaz and immigrated to Bahrain which was ruled by Ashkanid kings. (Therefore, it seems that Arab considered Iran as their nearest haven and moved from Hijaz to Bahrain.) Abolfaraj Esfahani, the famous Iranian historian, has noted in his book that “some Arab families who reached ‘Hijr’ were prevented by its people to enter the city. Therefore, war broke out and Arabs remained in Bahrain.”

It should be noted that “Hijr” region mentioned in Esfahani’s book was not extant under Ashkanid rulers and was made upon orders of Shahpour II (310-379 AD). It is certain that Ardeshir Babakan (died in 241 as), the founder of Sassanid dynasty was the first king to officially allow Arabs who were harassed by black people, to settle along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman. They were the second group of Arabs who had immigrated to Bahrain in the time of Ashkanid kings. Afterwards, and up to the rule of Shahpour II and wars between Persia and Roman Empire, Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, gradually approached the Persian Gulf.

As put by Ibn Balkhi in Farsnameh, the city of Khat, which later became capital city of Bahrain, was built by Ardeshir Babakan. It was first called Dariyan and was later renamed to Khat. Ardeshir Babakan also attached great importance to coastal Bahrain, which constituted the great Bahrain along with Bahrain Island. The coastal Bahrain was part of the present day Saudi Arabia and was home to Ahsa, Qatif, Aghir, and al-Hafuf cities. That region was divided into three provinces under the Sassanid rule, which had direct contacts to Tisfun, the capital city of the Sassanids. Due to its importance, Ardeshir Babakan had appointed his crown prince, Shahpour I, as its rule. Three major provinces of Bahrain under the Sassanids included Hagar, Bonyad Ardeshir, and Mish Mahig.

Westfelz, the German historian has written about Iran’s presence in the Persian Gulf that “before Islam Bahrain and all western coasts of the Persian Gulf were ruled by Iranians who had built strong fortresses there to head off invading Arabs.

Espidouyeh, an Iranian ruler, was so dominant over those areas that the residents of Bahrain called the island “Espidogan” after him. In the sixth or eighth year after Hegira, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) sent a man called Aladdin ibn Abdullah ibn Khazrami to Bahrain to tell its Iranian ruler, Sheipoukht, to either become a Muslim or pay a tax. Arabs and Iranians accepted Islam. After Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) passed away, an Iranian prince was chosen as ruler. Aladdin ibn Khazrami fought and defeated them.

In the middle of the Umayyad rule, uprisings were started by Iranians against Umayyad caliphs. In 72 AH, Abu Fedik Khareji took Bahrain out of the hands of Umayyad rulers and in 105 AH, Massoud ibn Abi rose against the caliph in Bahrain and defeated its ruler. He ruled in Bahrain for 19 years and did not obey the caliph.

In 255 AH, Iranians launched another major uprising against Abbasid caliphs. Ali ibn Mohammad Sahib uz-Zanj, whose father was a Iranian from Taleqan region, gathered slaves and black people who had been brought there from Zanzibar and launched an uprising against the caliph. About 2.5 million people were killed in the subsequent conflicts. They say that Sahib uz-Zanj was follower of Imam Ali (AS) and his progeny. After conquering Basra, he went to Bahrain and was warmly received by its people. The people of Ahsa and Qatif also accepted him as leader and Yahya ibn Mohammad Arzaq al-Bahraini joined him and became one of his six commanders.

Another movement was launched with liberation of Qatif city by Abu Saeed Jenabi (Genave’ei) in 286 AH and was known as Qarmatiyan uprising. It triggered insurgencies by Qarmatiyan against the caliph in other parts of Iran and was spread from Bahrain up to Alborz Mountains. Therefore, Bahrain and Persian Gulf has been a base for Shiites to fight Abbasid caliphs. Those movements continued by Hassan Sabbah in the mountainous region of Alamut.

Al-e Bouyeh kings ruled for about 113 years from 334 AH to 447 AH and grasped political power in the Persian Gulf where the caliph was just a titular position. Anyway, since Al-e Bouyeh snatched power, the Persian Gulf and its islands and ports, including Bahrain, fell under their rule. In the time of Moguls, Bahrain was ruled by governor of Fars. Hamdollah Mostofi has written in his famous book, Nuzhat ul-Qoloub that Kish, Hormuz, Bahrain, and Kharg were considered part of the Iranian land. Ibn Batuta (born in 711 AH and died in 784 AH) crossed the Persian Gulf in the eight century AH and has noted that people of Bahrain are Shiites because its people opposed the caliphs. Under the rule of Al-e Mozaffar in Fars and under Teimuri kings Bahrain and Persian Gulf islands were ruled by governors of Fars and Hormuz.

After Shah Esmaeil Safavi grasped power and established an integrated Iran before founding the Safavid dynasty in 913 AH, Albuquerque entered the Persian Gulf after invasion of the Indian Ocean by Portuguese. After conquering Oman, the Portuguese reached Hormuz.

Due to engagement in wars in northern parts of the country, Shah Esmaeil failed to pay due attention to the Persian Gulf. Therefore, Albuquerque dominated the whole Persian Gulf and Bahrain and the Portuguese ruled there for 115 years.

In 1011 AH, coinciding with 1602 AD, Shah Abbas I (996-1038 AH) received different news from southern parts of Iran. In the same year, Farrokh Shah, the ruler of Hormuz who paid tribute to the Portuguese, died and Ruknoddin Massoud, the ruler of Bahrain who was subject to the ruler of Hormuz, saw his chance and announced independence. Since he feared to be attacked by the Portuguese, he pledged allegiance to Allahverdi Khan, the ruler of Fars and waited for his military assistance. Shah Abbas considered Hormuz and nearby areas as belonging to Iran.

Allahverdi Khan then attacked the Portuguese forces in the Persian Gulf and sent a force commanded by Khajeh Moein ud-din Fali to Bahrain and recaptured it for Iran.

After conquering Qeshm Island with the help of the British, Shah Abbas proposed to East India Company to expel Portuguese forces from the Persian Gulf by signing a contract with Iran. The negotiations took a year and, finally, the British agreed to help Iran against the Portuguese. After the contract was signed between Iran and East India Company, the Iranian forces led by Emam Qoli Khan, the ruler of Fars, as well as the British ships, beat the Portuguese and conquered Bandar Abbas, Bahrain, Qeshm, and Hormuz. When Afghans had invaded Iran, the Arabs saw their chance and attacked Bahrain. After Nader Shah ascended to the throne and appointed Mohammad Taqi Khan Shirazi as governor general of Fars province, he ordered the latter to reclaim Bahrain and nearby islands from Sheikh Jabbar Haula. In Rajab month of the lunar year, 1149, when Nader Shah was moving toward Kandahar, the governor of Fars attacked Bahrain and Haula handed over Bahrain islands to Iranian troops without fighting. Afterwards, the governor of Fars went toward Muscat and made the ruler of Muscat to pay tribute to Iran. When Nader Shah returned from India in 1152 AH, Arabs living in Muscat and Oman attacked Iranian ships in retaliation for their defeat in 1149 AH and sank them. They also refused to pay tribute to Iran. Nader Shah, then, ordered Nizam-ul-Mulk, the ruler of Deccan to send 20 ships to Iran, which arrived in Bandar Abbas in the spring of 1154. The governor of Fars accompanied by Kalbali Khan Kouseh Ahmadlou, the son of Baba Ali Beig Kouseh Ahmadlou, attacked Oman and Muscat with 5,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry forces and after a difficult war, they managed to hit Arabs’ ships with cannonballs. Then they landed in Muscat. Kalbali Khan conquered Lewa Fortress. Sultan bin Murshid, the Imam of Muscat, took refuge at Sahar Fortress. The Iranian forces then attacked the fortress and Imam of Muscat was forced to leave the fortress and was later killed by Iranian troops. After he was killed, the Arabs fled in various dictions and Ahmad bin Saeed, the sheriff of Sahar Fortress, submitted the fortress to Iranian commander.

Nader Shah then ordered Seif bin Sultan, the son of Sultan bin Murshid to become ruler of Muscat and Oman and Iranian troops returned to Fars. On the whole, under Nader Shah, Persian Gulf islands of Bahrain, Hormuz, and Qeshm were ruled by Iran. Nader Shah was also thinking about establishment of a powerful navy, but the idea was aborted due to his death. The French consul in Bushehr has written that Nader Shah intended to put his name on the Caspian Sea and asked John Elton to do that, but the latter did not succeed because he lost his life during unrests in 1751. Nader Shah then thought about Persian Gulf and chose Bushehr as a naval base due to its proximity to Shiraz. He had 30 battleships made in Europe and India which were manned by Indian and Portuguese sailors. Nader Shah also intended to erect a shipbuilding plant whose needed woods were carried from northern Iranian forests.

However, the plan collapsed and Nader Shah’s idea of an Iranian navy was soon forgotten. After Nader Shah was killed, chaos reigned in Iran and local rulers gained more power. In 1167 AH (1725 AD), Kharg was chosen by the Dutch as a good place to promote their trade activities. After negotiations with the local ruler of Bandar Rig (Amir Nassir) they conquered Kharg with two ships and 50 soldiers and built a fortress there. This was the last activity by the Dutch troops in Iran.


Studying the historical background of conflicts in the Persian Gulf from ancient times up to the rule of Nader Shah of Afshar dynasty (116-1148 AH) will indicate historical identity of the region and peoples who have lived around it and have left behind common civilizational heritage. A glance at those conflicts and historical developments would reveal that Iranians have always proved their right to this natural bounty in view of the vast area of their land and the effort they have always made to defend its territorial, cultural and historical integrity. To reach a better conclusion, we must discuss challenges that have emerged since the end of Nader Shah rule up to the present time in a separate paper. The final conclusion would be that the superior position of Iran has continued in the course of time and therefore, other peoples living in the region should forget about confronting the biggest power in the region, that is, Iran out of racial prejudices and know that due to its historical superiority as well as its geographical position in the Persian Gulf, Iran has always had the first say in this regard. Thus, the sole way for regional countries to prosper and progress is to cooperate with Iran on the basis of their common cultural heritage to promote political, economic and social development of the region without intervention of foreign forces.


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