The Persian Regular Army of the First Half of the 19th Century

By Aleksandr Kibovskii and Vadim Yegorov. Translated by Mark Conrad, 1998.

(Part 1, Tseikhgauz [Zeughaus], No. 5, 1996, pgs. 20-25. ISSN 0868-801 X)

While the uniforms of our European opponents are well known, historians have given much less attention to their oriental contemporaries. Seeking to fill this gap, we discuss the Persian regular army which twice clashed with Russia on the field of battle (1804-1813, 1826-1828). The rare archival documents and few published materials we have gathered allow us to present a sufficiently complete picture of the outward appearance of this "exotic" force.

In May of 1807 France and Persia signed the Treaty of Finkenstein, by which Napoleon promised to supply the Persian ruler Fath-Ali-Shah with arms, field artillery, and officers to organize a regular army. It was planned to send to Persia a French contingent of 4000 infantry with 10,000 muskets and 50 cannons. A preliminary mission was sent to the shah, consisting of General Claude-Matthieu Gardan with the first fifteen officer specialists. Napoleon’s instructions (10 May, 1807) to Gardan were to support anti-English and anti-Russian feelings, create a diversion in Georgia, and organize a regular Persian force. On 24 December the mission arrived in Teheran and here set to work. The formation of infantry and artillery units was undertaken in Persian Azerbaidjan - the hereditary possession of the heir to the throne, Abbas-Mirza. The young prince, in opposition to the shah, was distinguished by his bellicosity, and in spite of his defeats by the Russians, among the Persians he passed for a talented military leader. He valued the advantages of a regular army and helped its formation in every way. Regular Persian soldiers were called "sarbaz" (literally, "those who play with their heads", i.e., "risk takers"). Gaspar Drouville in his Travels to Persia in 1812 and 1813 writes that since Abbas-Mirza "did not have the means to give them uniforms, he nonetheless ordered that they have garments sewn up for them of the same color with buttons on the chest, thereby giving them a more warlike appearance." Later, he "ordered that bayonets be put on as many muskets as possible," and finally, "instead of cartridge pouches for their ammunition, each soldier was given a leather bag, fastened in front below the waist, which was as dangerous as it was clumsy."

In the meantime, due to the efforts of English diplomats French prestige began to fall after the peace treaty of Tilsit. At Tilsit, Napoleon said not a word about Persian interests, as at the same time the English promised the shah cannons, muskets, and ten million pounds sterling as "financial aid". As a result, on 16 December, 1809, Gardan and his fellow Frenchmen left Teheran. They were replaced here by the British, mainly officers of the East India Company’s forces. Through India they brought in good-quality English cloth and a great quantity of other equipment, and continued the provision of uniforms to the Persians.


The sarbaz infantry was the most numerous branch of Abbas-Mirza’s regular forces. Tactically they were divided into "fuadji" (regiments or battalions - here the terms were both used), part of which were quartered in Tabriz, the capital of Persian Azerbaidjan, while the others were considered provincial. In peacetime a private in the sabarz spent half the year on leave to take care of affairs at home. For the other six months he trained with his regiment under the guidance of English instructors. Abbas-Mirza’s new troops impressed Fath-Ali-Shah so much that after 1813 he raised a corps of regular infantry for himself which he called the "djambazy" (literally, "those who play with their souls"). These, however, were much worse soldiers than those of the prince, since they were not trained by British officers, but by men selected from among the sarbazy themselves. Lastly, some sarbaz fuadji became yet another category of regular infantry when the shah ordered that they be raised by nine of his sons who were provincial governors. The sons proved to be unreceptive to European ways, and their warrior tradition was hardly suitable for regular soldiers.

The infantry’s uniform during the first years of British influence remained the same as previously introduced by the French, who in their own way had indeed managed to "Europeanize" the sarbaz men. This is shown by the earliest descriptions and illustrations presented by Drouville (1812-1813): "The uniform consists of a green cloth coat with red collar and cuffs, yellow buttons, wide pants of cotton, and boots. In addition, in winter each man is given a kind of short cloak of very thick woolen material, the outside of which is a shaggy fleece like a goat’s. (Georgians and Circassians call this a "burka", and the Persians - an "yepanchei" - Auth.)... All leather equipment is white; the majority of muskets are English."

Before continuing describing changes in the uniform, we first note that it practically did not change for fifty years. In truth, the main innovation for the sarbaz was their own coat (jacket); everything else was very much like the national Persian costume or a simplification of it. Firstly, it consisted of a headdress - the so-called hat of the Kadjar dynasty, which out of respect for the shah was worn by all of Persia, and which the regular forces did not want to forego for any reason, in spite of all the urgings of the French and English. This hat was shaped like a truncated cone about 30 cm high, and was made from black lamb’s or ram’s fleece, with a small cloth indent on top. To be fashionable, the top of the headdress was a little lower in front.

The black karakul of the kadjar hats was in harmony with the Persians’ customs. Men in Persia traditionally wore beards. No doubt to change the aspect of the regular troops at one stroke, the English Major Henry Lindsey ordered razors to be put to the beards, which was done by the overwhelming majority of the sarbaz. The right to wear beards was confined to officers and the djambazy. In all other ways the regular soldier preserved the national hair style, namely: shaved head with a topknot on the crown, and side curls ("zyulfy") on the temples in front and behind the ears (following custom, these were cut off upon reaching age 45). Curls, eyebrows, and even eyelashes were dyed with henna at least once a week.

The uniform "pantaloons" of the sarbaz were nothing other than the simple wide trousers called "dzir-djoma" in Persian, reaching to the heels, and lined. These were worn under the shirt and fastened in front with a silk cord. The shirt itself - "piragen" - reached almost to the knees, had no collar, and opened on the left side of the chest. Shirts were made from a silken material in various colors, with trim in different colors if silk cord. Over the undershirt and pants, the Pesians year-round wore a dark, quilted cotton "arkhaluk", somewhat like an 18th-century European coat, and which was buttoned in front and also reached to the knees. In cold weather the outer clothing was supplemented with a short caftan lined with sheep’s fleece. It had sleeves to the elbows, but was not even buttoned, but simply tied with a sash. Sashes were wool, cotton, or cashmere silk, depending on availability. Kindjal daggers were thrust in the sash, with soldiers and civilians both preferring the straight "Georgian" (i.e., Caucasian - Auth.) style, often with rich decoration.

Combining these oriental pieces of costume with their single-breasted uniform coats, the sarbaz first tucked the shirt into the pants, and then the arkhaluk, so that when training it was hard to move their legs. Others wore the shirt pulled out, and it billowed out from under the jacket. Much commotion was caused by European boots and unfamiliar leather accouterments...

There was no definite regulation in regard to color for the uniform, which was due to insufficient supplies of cloth, as well as the Persian’s disinclination to complicate their lives. Captain P. N. Yermolov, investigating the state of their armed forces, in 1817 wrote, "Persian infantry is clothed in cloth jackets, of different colors for each battalion (many battalions are clothed in red), the collar and cuffs are of a different color than the coat. Wide pants are of white cotton; boots are of European style. On their heads is the usual Persian ram’s fleece hat... Neckcloths are worn by those who so wish... Vekils have three yellow cloth chevrons on their sleeves, Mubashirs have two chevrons, and dakhbashs have one (the reference here is to sergeants, supply NCOs, and corporals - Auth.). The infantry does not have greatcoats or packs, but in cold and rainy weather, anyone can wear what they want over the coat.

"The infantry is armed with English muskets with bayonets... non-commissioned officers and privates do not wear sabers or short swords. In some battalions, privates are allowed to wear daggers... They have a cartridge pouch on a belt worn from the left shoulder down to the right, and which is further held by a small belt going around the waist. On another belt over the right shoulder to the left they wear a frog for the bayonet. In each battalion these crossbelts are either black leather or white deerskin, but no one attaches any significance to this."

Yermolov also noted that the purchase of cloth from the East India Company at high prices was a "burden" for the Persians, so they were going to set up their own textile factories, and the troops would sew their own English uniforms from the planned product of these establishments.

In later times the situation was unchanged. Colonel F. F. Bartolomei wrote of three infantry regiments he saw in 1826 that they had wide white pants but different colors for the coat - red, blue, and green. Baron F.F. Korf, secretary for the Russian mission in 1834-1835, mentioned the sarbaz’s black ram’s fleece hat, red single-breasted coat with wide skirts which had a "baggy" fit, and wide white pants "gathered at the bottom and fastened at mid-calf with straps from the shoes as a kind of sandal" (obviously, an "irregular" type of footwear - Auth.). "A swordbelt and crossbelt that cross over the chest, and a large musket, the weight of which appears to bear him toward the ground," Korf concludes humorously.

In 1837 the Persian army moved against Herat. The Russian Colonel I. F. Blaramberg, who was gathering statistical information on Persia, tells us this about the expedition: "The clothing of the regular Persian troops is known: cloth jacket, wide white cotton pants fastened above the ankles by boots with high stockings, while the "popakh" or Persian hat is of ram’s wool. Sarbaz usually wear their peasant clothing underneath the jacket, and tuck the skirts of the caftan into the above-mentioned pants. There is no regulation concerning uniform colors; these depend on what cloth is able to be procured. As a consequence, the regiments are clothed in different colors; only the guards regiments usually wear a red uniform. The cartridge pouch is small and similar to ours, with a crossbelt that crosses the chest over another belt that carries the bayonet scabbard. A wide strap with a buckle serves as a waist belt and helps hold the crossbelts so that they do not swing about. Up to now knapsacks are unknown in Persia, or at least are not used." Blaramberg further explains that this item, so necessary on campaign, had its place taken by numerous donkeys onto which all loads were packed, so that the sarbazy themselves walked unburdened except for only pouches and muskets over the crossbelts. Muskets were English, with bayonets "without loops" (meaning, apparently, without a fastening mechanism - Auth.). Later in his "observation", Blaramberg mentions "greatcoats", but without any details on what kind of clothing this was.

Years passed... Prince Abbas-Mirza, the founder of the regular army, had died long ago (in 1833), and a year later Fath-Ali-Shah also passed away. His grandson Mohammed followed him on the throne, and then his great-grandson - Naser-ed-Din-Shah. But the sarbaz uniform remained almost the same. For example, in 1857, in connection with the Anglo-Persian conflict (a small war over Herat), the London "Illustrated Times" published an article on the Persian forces in which, in particular, it was written, "The shah’s personal guard wears white trousers, full and pleated, and a red jacket with dark-blue cuffs and collar, while the jackets of provincial troops vary in color," and so on.

The English, who had put so much effort and resources into the regular Persian army, naturally regarded it with tolerance. Put Persia’s contemporary potential enemies characterized the sarbaz in very unflattering terms. As early as 1817, Staff-Captain N. N. Murav’ev declared, "This unfortunate infantry, of which they speak of in Europe with respect, was invented to our own benefit. After losing their Asian agility and quickness, the sarbaz have not however acquired European characteristics and are a base and dirty force, badly dressed and created as victims for our grenadiers. They cannot even handle the English muskets which they have been given."

All witnesses speak with one voice in regard to the unfortunate fate of the English muskets: "They are kept in great disrepair."; "...not very clean."; "The majority are defective.", etc. Even in the 1840’s the Persians had not learned to knap flints, but received them from England and Russia. In the summer of 1839 the artist and traveler N. F. Masal’skii observed this kind of scene in camp: "Soldiers in variously colored, torn jackets and wide pants milled about in front of the tents... They hung meat upon their muskets and grilled shashliks on the ramrods." In the fall of that same year he "was witness to an entertaining parade which the Shah made with his guards." The men were wearing "completely new equipment, i.e. red summer jackets and white pants, but everything else was old and dirty! What was even more amusing, was that only the front rank had muskets that still worked; in the next rank behind, and in the third, there was not one good one! You saw a stock with bayonet but no barrel, or a stock with barrel but no bayonet and missing a lock, or simply a barrel with a bayonet... in a word, the most chaotic disorder!" Originally, each private in wartime was to have 100 cartridges, but in reality one was doing well to have 30...

In just as unanimous a voice, writers censure the Persian soldiers for their slovenliness. In 1817 Yermolov wrote, "Every year each of the lower ranks is given a complete new uniform. Nevertheless, there are no troops in the world which can compare with the Persians in untidiness and ill-fitting clothing... One can easily say about the uniforms that their wear-out period is longer than a year, since of all the troops that we have seen here not one battalion had good clothing, and one can see that the climate is as much a cause as the slovenliness of the Persians." Even Abbas-Mirza’s guards who were "in clothing that was rather good (especially their hats)" were "noticeably negligent in caring for it" (Bartolomei, 1826). In the 1830’s, according to Blaramberg, the wear-out periods were changed somewhat: "The renewal of uniforms was prescribed to be every two years, while new greatcoats were issued to non-commissioned officers, drummers, and soldiers every three years. Every year they also receive two pairs of boots each, or instead of this - 2 1/2 saibkras" (in Russian money - 3 paper roubles -Auth.). These conditions were comparatively generous and similar to norms for issuing clothing in European armies. Nonetheless, as Blaramberg again wrote in 1837 from Herat, only a few infantry battalions had an excellent appearance, "the rest of the sarbazy wore torn uniforms or ragged peasant dress."



"Persian officers - very amusing fellows," judged one contemporary. Their uniform was hardly different from that of the soldiers’ as they themselves attached little significance to it. "Officers," wrote Yermolov in 1817, "have epaulettes on the shoulders, with silver or gold fringes (apparently, this is in regard to British-style epaulettes - Auth.). Except when in formation they do not wear their uniform, but rather are always in traditional Persian dress." Their sole weapon was a saber, the majority of which were Persian with curved blades. Bartolomei, who observed Kasum-Khan’s guards battalion training in 1826, also noted that "officers are distinguished from the soldiers by red sashes and beards," and even the sons and nephew of Abbas-Mirza, who were serving in this battalion, wore soldiers’ coats of coarse cloth, but while not on duty - their traditional dress. When he wished to give a present to the princes, the head of the Russian embassy, Prince A.S. Menshikov, on 15 June, 1826, ordered Colonel Bartolomei to buy for them in Tiflis gold field-grade officers’ epaulettes. The task was performed, and from that time on Russian epaulettes quickly spread among the Persian officer corps. From the British they borrowed the frock coat "nizam", which they undertook to decorate after their own tastes. "Their clothing consists of a frock coat reaching to the knee, with embroidered collar and large epaulettes; pants are tucked into the boots, and they have ram’s fleece hats," wrote Korf about Persian officers (1834-1835). The next information is Blaramberg’s, relating to the time of the siege of Herat in 1837: "No regulation uniform has been introduced for officers. Field-grade officers usually wear red caftans like a kind of frock (nizam), even though their regiment’s uniforms are of a different color. The collar and cuffs on the sleeve are trimmed in gold. This embroidery is imported from Georgia, just as the epaulettes. However, field-grade officers more often wear the uniform coat when they are serving with their regiments. Company-grade officers are distinguished from soldiers by a thin crimson silk sash, or only by the fact that they do not have a musket. However, recently the majority of them are also wearing epaulettes of the same type which are regulation in Russia." All this shiny finery, naturally, was not regulated in any way. K. K. Bode, the first secretary of the Russian embassy, saw one Persian serkheng (colonel) in the 1830’s who "decorated himself... with collar and cuffs of black velvet with thick silver embroidery, which must have been taken from the coat of Griboedov", killed in Teheran in 1829.

In a word, Persian officers did not attach any special significance to the word "uniform" and considered it only as a variation of formal clothing. In this regard the English instructor Garton adopted the same native attitude as His Majesty Mohammed-Shah (son of the late Abbas-Mirza). The first walked about with a cane, "in a red frock coat of his own design (he termed it his ‘uniforme de phantaisie’)", wearing a Russian shako bought in Tiflis and ornamented with a St.-Andrew’s star inscribed in Russian "For Faith and Fidelity" (Bartolomei, 1826). The parade uniform of His Majesty was a nizam "like a kind of cossack half-caftan, dark blue, with collar and cuffs embroidered with brilliants, emerald buttons, and epaulettes like a general’s, also of large emeralds with big pearls sewn to it with thread" (A. D. Saltykov, 1838).

One more incident demonstrates the cavalier attitude of the Persians towards uniforms. In 1829, in Moscow, Prince Khazrev-Mirza, the head of the Persian embassy, being enthralled by Russian military uniforms, "by some means obtained a Russian uniform coat, and one afternoon wore it to go out walking; but Major General Rennenkampf, who was accompanying him, successfully advised him against it. Nonetheless, at night he managed to travel forth in this uniform and was at Kozikh in a public house" (out of curiosity), etc. [Note: A number of documents concerning Khazrev-Mirza’s stay in Russia were graciously shown to the authors by the scholar M. V. Sidorova, manager of the GARF inventory office.]

In conclusion we add that the princes were always rendered their due honors, while the ordinary sarbaz officer lost all his authority over the soldiers once they were not in formation. The soldiers had no wish to salute him - it was only epaulettes and pay that distinguished him from them. [Note: The available material plainly shows that the European details of the uniforms of the Persian regular infantry - the leather equipment, jackets with shoulder wings and lace, non-commissioned officers’ chevrons, officers’ crimson sashes with tassels, and hussar boots - were obviously in the style of British light infantry.]



In 1813, Fath-Ali-Shah, who was visiting Azerbaijan, personally delivered the first flags to the regular infantry. According to Drouville, these flags were red and decorated with white tafetta edges with gold fringes. On the top of the pole was a silver hand. The cloth "had the coat of arms of their country, which is to say a lion lying in front of a rising sun, with the inscription ‘Sultan, son of the Sultan Fatei-Ali, Emperor descended from the Kadjars’" (Abbas-Mirza’s title - Auth.). Blaramberg (1837) repeats Drouville, when at Herat he saw that "the regimental flags were all the same, i.e., shafts topped by a silvered hand (the hand of Ali), while the flag itself was of red cloth or silk with a rising sun over a reclining lion (the Persian national emblem)." To be sure, when Blaramberg was later referring to these same events, he made a mistake or, on the other hand, was more specific: "Each Persian regiment has its own silk flag - red, white, yellow, and so on as desired", but invariably with the lion, sun, and silver "hand of Ali" (Ali ibn Abu Talib - warrior of Islam, one of the prophet Mohammed’s first followers and his son-in-law, especially venerated in Persia - Auth.).MUSICIANS

"The flag with the Persian coat of arms," noted N. N. Murav’ev in his notes (1817), "stands in the middle of the battalion with the musicians dressed in yellow jackets. These musicians conisist of drummers, fifers, and trumpeters. The first beat the drum well, but the second, who have not the least natural talent for music or any understanding of rhythm, play so that it is only with difficulty that one can recognize it is ‘God Save the King’ that they are tooting." In the same year, Yermolov wrote, "Drummers and fifers are dressed in either red or yellow coats, with lace on the seams and arms, white cords on their caps, with a tassel hanging over the right shoulder." In later years the uniforms of musicians remained just as colorful. On the march, in order to give themselves relief, they tied the drums to the backs of donkeys, and when rendering honors during mounting of the guard they played the English anthem "God Save the King" as before, but, however, as it also arranged at that time in Russia (Bartolomei, 1826).



In order to decorate soldiers and officers of the regular army with something else besides monetary awards, in 1806 silver and gold medals were instituted. These medals appeared to be lesser grades of the Persian Order of the Lion and Sun. But while this order could be received for civilian services, the medals were only for military deeds. Also, the Persian shahs were very active in giving out this order to foreign military men, diplomats, etc., but were extremely reserved in awarding it to their own subjects. Only noble or specially distinguished magnates close to the shah’s court might count on receiving an order. Thus, the only award for soldiers, and the basic award for officers, were medals. One of the first of these drew the attention of the British politician John Malcolm. After visiting Persia in 1800, 1808, and 1810, in 1815 he produced the monumental work "History of Persia". In it, Malcolm devoted considerable attention to Persian governmental symbols. Examining, in particular, the image of the reclining lion with the sun rising from behind his back, he notes that this symbol is embroidered on regimental flags (see above) and is present on the regalia of orders. For those who distinguished themselves fighting against foreign enemies, the order was issued in the form of a gold or silver medal. Malcolm has a very interesting small footnote: "The medals which are struck with this symbol (the lion and sun - Auth.) are primarily given to Persian officers and soldiers of the regular forces who have distinguished themselves in the war with Russia. English officers who recently served in the Persian army have told me that those (Persians) who have been awarded such medals are extremely proud of these decorations, and overall everyone strives very hard to receive one." Drouville, who was in Persia in 1812 and 1813, substantially supplements Malcolm: "The prince rewards his soldiers as in Europe, with rank, orders, and money. He convinced his father to institute many classes of the Order of the Lion and Sun. These various classes are: first - silver medals for non-commissioned officers and soldiers, carrying with it a stipend of two rupees a month (five francs); a gold medal for officers, which comes with ten rupees..." In 1827, the Russian officer I. V. Romanus drew one of the sarbaz medals in detail. Apparently, it was intended that the djambaz would receive similar medals, but supposedly with lines praising Abbas-Mirza (see illus.). The medals were worn on the left side of the chest, on a ribbon that most often was the same as that of the ribbon of the medals of the Order of the Lion and Sun. Drouville wrote that "their ribbons were changed many times; the French first wore their Orders of the Sun on crimson ribbons, then the color was orange. Finally, the Emperor (Shah - Auth.) settled on green, it being the favorite color of their Prophet." However, for example in I. G. Spasskii’s book "Foreign and Russian Orders Up To 1917", the following information is given: "For foreigners awarded medals of the second class and lower, it was prescribed to have a green ribbon, and for subject citizens - a light-blue one." It is apparent that medals were awarded in subsequent times.


Illustrations:Page 20: Cavalry standard and infantry flag of the regular forces. 1810s (from Drouville’s book).

Page 21: (Top) The earliest "uniform" of the sarbaz. About 1808 (from Drouville’s book).

(Bottom) Sarbaz in the first French-style uniform, 1810s (from Drouville’s book).

Page 22: (Top) Sarbaz. Illus. from 1827 from I.V. Romanus’s manuscript Short Notes on the Campaign in Persia 1827, 1828. Russian National Library.

(Bottom) Drummer, soldier, officer, and flag of sarbaz infantry. Illus. from P. N. Yermolov’s manuscript in the album Collection of Notes on Persia in 1817. State Historical Museum.

Page 23: (Left) Infantry soldiers of Crown Prince Abbas-Mirza in Tavriz. 1810s. Russian State Military History Archive.

(Right) Sarbaz officer and irregular horseman. 1810s. Russian State Military History Archive.

Page 24: (Top) Soldiers of regular Persian infantry. Illus. from P. N. Yermolov. 1817. State History Museum.

(Bottom left) Militia man, drummer, and infantryman of the regular infantry. 1810s. Russian State Military History Archive.

(Bottom right) Adjutant and officer of the Shah’s guards. 1810s. Russian State Military History Archive.

Page 25: (Top) Soldier of the regular infantry. Part of a lithograph based on a drawing from life by J. Loran. 1852.

(Bottom left) Musicians of the shah. 1810s. Russian State Military History Archive.

(Bottom right) Persian medal for bravery. Illus. from 1827 from I. V. Romanus’s "Short Notes on the Campaign in Persia 1827, 1828". Russian National Library.

On the front are allegorical lines in honor of Abbas-Mirza, the heir to the throne. On the reverse is an inscription averring that the wearer is "like a tiger, destroying the enemies of his emperor."

(End of Part One.)

(Part 2, Tseikhgauz No. 6, 1997)


In the opinion of contemporaries, the regular Persian cavalry - "Nizam-Atli"- was formed "completely" in the French manner. At first there were formed four squadrons armed with lances and one with carbines. It was planned to expand them into regiments, recruiting for them the best and bravest irregular horsemen. We have two eyewitnesses to the outer appearance of the Nizam-Atli: Drouville (1812-1813) and Yermolov (1817), who partly support and partly contradict each other. D.:"The uniform of the spearmen consists of a light-blue cloth coat with red collar and cuffs and white crossbelts; they wear, as do all regular troops, the national hat." Ye.: "The cavalry uniform is exactly the same as for the infantry sarbaz." D.: "Every horseman is armed with a spear with a little scarlet flag on the end, a saber, and a pistol which has a ring on the end of the butt through which a rather long cord ties to the carbine case, so that one may fire the pistol without untying it. Some of the sabers are English, presented to the crown prince by General Malcolm. The spears are European lances, but with a lighter shaft." Ye.: "The cavalrymen are issued European sabers of incomparably poorer steel than the Persians’ own well-made swords; and instead of Asiastic muskets... they are given heavy carbines. They also have lances with pennants, like uhlans’. These lances stay the same as those for irregular cavalry, being light and with most of the shafts of cane. I don’t know if they will be as agile as before, having a heavy saber and carbine bouncing around." D.: "They retain their own saddles, which for them are an easier seat than any other. The only the oriental stirrups are changed in them and replaced by so-called hussar ones; they are also given spurs, which up to now were unknown to them." Ye.: "Saddles at this time are still Persian, but in place of the bridle, European mouthpieces without chains are put on."

In 1813 Fath-Ali-Shah issued standards to the regular cavalry. From drawings they appear the same as infantry flags, but on light-blue cloth, and with a pole that ends in a sharp gilt spearhead rather than the "hand of Ali" (Drouville).

Summing up his observations, Yermolov wrote that the Persian regular cavalry was "much worse" than the irregular mounted troops. In truth, the European equipment constrained oriental horsemen unused to it, and the trading of light Asiastic weapons, with which they had trained since childhood, for heavy items made them even more clumsy. Especially annoying were the spurs - forgetting they had them, the Persians tried to sit with their legs squeezed together in the national style, which naturally stuck the horses painfully. All this led to service in the "traditional" cavalry being considered much less prestigious, and the best horsemen stayed out of the regular forces. The Nizam-Atli quickly fell into decline and by the middle of the 1830’s "it was in the most pitiful state" and "was not capable of any service". In 1835 the English Major Ferrand tried to inspire new life into it by organizing a rather well-structured lancer squadron (120 men), with lances and red clothing (caftans). The European title of "lancers" was apparently of a conditional character. But during the Turkmen campaign of 1836 this squadron practically disappeared, so that in 1837 the red lancers only numbered 30 men.

For comparison, we offer an extract from Murav’ev’s diary. In May of 1817 he was present at a "ristalishche" of 1000 irregular Kruta horsemen (this was one of the nomadic tribes subject to Persia): "The horsemen were amazing in the agility of both themselves and their horses. They were armed with lances with cane shafts. When they attack, holding the lance in the middle over the shoulder, they swing it so that it moves so fast that the eye can hardly follow it, so that the a Kruta thrust is impossible to deflect with a sword. And when the Krutas run away, they fire their pistols, of which they carry three. These pistols are tied by the butt and kept in the waistband; as soon as one is fired, it is tossed back over the shoulder and another is drawn out in a trice." In this way the Europeanized equipment of the regular cavalrymen was only a poor parody of the skillful oriental arrangement. The only deficiency, alas, seen by Murav’ev was what he termed the lack of quickness in the horsemen’s loading of their weapons: "They do not use filled tin or wooden cartridges as do the Circassians, but rather have a leather power bag at the waist, with which they pour a charge into the palm of the hand and then pour it into the barrel. Under windy conditions the powder is always blown out of their hands."


Abbas-Mirza wanted to establish regular Persian artillery only in its mounted version. French instructors were only able to accomplish a little in this regard, and the main role in its formation was played by the British, in particular Major Henry Lendisey of the East India Company. "The structure of the regular artillery is completely like that of the English," wrote Yermolov in 1817, " and that which is with the shah as well as that with Abbas-Mirza is all horse artillery. The best men are selected for the Artillery, and as far as they can they are dressed more fancy than the rest of the Persian troops. Abbas-Mirza’s horse artillery fires exceptionally well." By 1837 the regular artillery already numbered 2000 men with 60 guns of various calibers, and according to Blaramberg’s report of what he saw at the siege of Herat, "was fine looking; without doubt it is the best arm of service in Persia."

Thus, the artillerymen proved to be the best suited to regular service. Even their uniforms were different from the rest of the sarbaz. "Their uniform consisted of a dark-blue Prussian dolman with red collar and lapels with yellow cords [obviously, we are not talking about a "Prussian", but rather a British Royal Horse Artillery dolman, to which the Persian garment was truly very similar - Auth.], wide white pants, white leather crossbelts, and the national headdress," recalled Drouville about the artillerymen (1812-1813), having seen the instructional artillery squadrons in Tavriz. Afterwards the uniforms of the artillery had almost no changes, and the officers so valued their dolmans that apparently they did not even wear the nizam.


A special independent branch of the artillery were the "zambureks" - small guns carried on camels. The name comes from the word "zambur", meaning wasp. It was reckoned that artillerymen on camels would be able to annoy the enemy in a manner similar to this insect. Zambureks appeared as early as 1729, when the Persians adopted the idea from their enemies, the Afghans. During the period when a European type army was being created, camel artillery kept their semi-regular status for some time. The zamburek itself was described in 1810 as follows: a bronze falconet of 1/2 pound caliber, fitted with a heavy wooden stock. When firing, it was stood with its stock on the ground and the barrel in a special fork stuck in the earth. The falconet was transported in a wooden saddle with high arches and a felt pillow in the middle. The fork-rest for the barrel was stuck into a special opening in the front arch, while in the back arch was placed the zamburek itself and a long pole with a colored pennant or flag, usually read. The falconets of very small caliber, without a stock, were simply fixed to the fork-rest and not taken off the camels, which during firing were put on their knees. The saddle arch for such a falconet was bound in iron so as to withstand the recoil of firing. For each zamburek the camel carried two leather bags tied to the sides of the saddle, containing powder and balls for twenty shots. The shah always had some 400 zambureks, and each prince ruling a province had about 200. According to Yermolov (1817), "zamburechki" (i.e. cannoneers - Auth.) were "dressed in dark-blue coats with red collars, cut in the European style with tails, wide cotton trousers and boots. On the head they had a conical cap colored red. Over the shoulder was throw match cord," the end of which was lit before firing. Zambureks fired no further than a normal musket, and accurately aiming them was almost impossible. This unique weapon was practically useless in battle against regular troops, but very noisy and colorful, very much reflecting the local medieval character, and they enjoyed great popularity with the Persians. For greater effect trumpets and drums accompanied the zambureks to supplement the total noise and din. Some foreigners found the zambureks abominable: "The shah rode alone, and in front went the his guards camel regiment...", we read in Murav'ev's notes (1817). "This guards camel regiment appears very strange to a European. They are all draped with red rags and each serves as a the carriage for a little cannon. They are well trained and can run, it is said, faster than a horse. They growl ungraciously, and stink. Where is the splendor of the Persian court? One sees nothing but rags, filth, and a few pearls."

The following detailed description of zambureks comes from the year 1853, when Colonel F. Colombari of the the U.S. Army, being a military advisor in Persia, compiled a rather detailed report on the camel artillery. At this time the zamburek artillerymen formed a separate corps of 4 companies (200 men) under the command of a colonel. In addition to the appropriate number of "combatant" camels, there were 25 reserve and pack beasts. There were 25 musicians in the band which was part of the corps. When on campaign, if the camel artillery was operating independently, it was accompanied by horsemen from the irregular cavalry. If such a covering force could not be provided, then an infantryman was seated on each camel behind the cannoneer.

Among the pieces of equipment not referred to by other observers, we may mention a black shabraque which covered the saddle-gun carriage; a leather bag for water hung beneath the camel's belly, and red, blue, and yellow woolen tassels decorating the harness.

The American colonel offered a whole list of improvements in zamburek equipment and wrote suggestions for perfecting the tactics of this mobile artillery.

In conclusion it is fitting to once more note the superb irregular cavalry outfitted with indigenous equipment and clothing, and also say a few words about the mounted and foot militia - the "tufengdji". The latter consisted of settled and nomad inhabitants who maintained order and - in the Caspian provinces - guarded against Turkmen raids. The total number of such local troops in Persia was about 150,000. The militia had no uniform. Persons wore their normal folk costume, and were armed with swords, daggers, and matchlocks, rarely with flintlocks. Although for their service the government paid them a little money - "tuman" - and a few donkey loads of millet each year, the tufengdji did not recognize anyone's authority or obey anybody except their own leaders. They had a deep distaste for the sarbaz, which sometimes spilled over into bloody fights between militiamen and sarbaz regulars.

In general, all attempts to Europeanize the outer appearance and, especially, the habits of the Persians were never crowned with complete success. Thus, even after the creation of a regular army, soldiers practiced the barbaric custom of cutting off the heads of their slain foes and presenting them to their leaders to receive the prescribed reward. This "tradition" was officially discontinued only after one of the trophies was recognized as the head of an English instructor...



1. Bartolomei, F.F. Posol'stvo knyazya Menshikova v Persiyu v 1826 godu. Saint Petersburg, 1904.

2. Blaramberg, I.F. Staticheskoe obozrenie Persii [1837].//Zapiski Imperatoroskogo Russkogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva. Book VII. Saint Petersburg, 1853.

3. Blaramberg, I.F. Osada goroda Gerata [1837].//Sbornik geograficheskikh, topograficheskikh i statisticheskikh materialov po Azii. Issue XVI. Saint Petersburg. 1885.

4. Blaramberg, I.F. Vospominaniya. Moscow. 1978.

5. Bode, K.K. Smert' Griboedova.//"Zhivopisnoe obozrenie". 1879, No. 4.

6. Borozdna, V.P. Kratkoe opisanie puteshestviya Rossiisko-imperatorskogo posol'stva v Persiyu v 1817 godu. Saint Petersburg, 1821.

7. Druvil', G [Drouville]. Puteshestvie v Persiyu v 1812 i 1813 godakh. Parts 1 and 2. Moscow, 1826.

8. Yermolov, P.N. O zavedenii regulyarnykh voisk v Persii. O regulyarnoi Pekhote, Kavalerii i Artillerii, nazyvaemoi Zamburaki [1817]. OPI GIM. f. 93, yed. khr 846 (Sobranie zapisok o Persii v 1817 godu, Book 1); also: RGVIA, f. 446. Op. 1. D. 6.

9. Korf, F.F. Vospominaniya o Persii. 1834-1835. Saint Petersburg, 1838.

10. Masal'skii, N.F. Pis'ma russkogo iz Persii. Parts 1 and 2. Saint Petersburg, 1844.

11. Murav'ev N.N. Zapiski [1817]. //Russkii arkhiv, 1886, No. 4.

12. Saltykov, A.D. Puteshestvie v Persiyu. Pis'ma. Moscow, 1849.

13. "Tradition" [Great Britain], Nos. 37 and 57.

14. GARF. F. 109. I ekspeditsiya. 1829 g. D. 422. Posol'stvo Khazrev-mirzy v Rossiyu.


The authors would also like to thank Aleksei Kotov for his help in obtaining the illustrations for this article.



Page 28: (Left) Regular cavalryman. 1810's. (From G. Drouville's book.)

(Right) Horse artilleryman. 1810's. (From G. Drouville's book.)

Page 29: (Left) Private and officer of horse artillery. 1810's. (From G. Drouville's book.)

(Right) Zambureks (light artillery on camels). 1810's. (Russian State Military History Archive.)

Page 30: (Left) Firing from a camel. 1810's. (From G. Drouville's book.)

(Right) Zamburek. 1810's. (From G. Drouville's book.)

Page 31: (Top) Drawings by F. Colombari, 1853. Zamburek with musket stock. Zamburek on saddle-carriage for firing from the ground (the stock is wrapped with cloth to soften the recoil).

(Bottom) Drawing from the Illustrated London Times of April, 1857: 1) Guards drummer. 2) Kazbin levy. 3) Artillery officer. 4) Artilleryman (zamburechki). 5) Kurd - mounted irregular. 6) Infantryman of the guards. 7) Infantry officer. 8) Horseman of irregular cavalry.


(End of Part Two.)