SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

The Earliest Years

A nomad tribe does not generally leave extensive written historical records, especially when they have gone under a variety of names. However, there are various legends about the very earliest years. These “perhaps correctly reveal a multiplicity of origins”:

  • A common myth states that “several Turkish hordes [were] invited from Syria to settle amongst [the Bakhtiari]”;
  • Another fable suggests that the Bakhtiari are descendants of those who escaped from “having their brains fed to the serpents sprouting from the shoulders of the legendary Zuhaq”;
  • The earliest written reference to the Bakhtiari is in Hamdallah Mustaufi Qazvini’s Select History (Tarikh Guzidah), which dates to around 1330CE
  • The Haft Lang and Chahar Lang groups may have been named after tax assessments: with the wealthier Haft Lang paying (proportionally within the three mule tax rate) ‘seven legs’, the less well-off Chahar Lang ‘four legs’, and the other tayafeh (tribal sections)one ‘leg’ each.

The limited records from the Safavid period suggest that the Bakhtiari were not an especially important entity at that time. In 1722, the Carmelite Father Krusinski reported that:

some leagues from that City (Isfahan) there were two very great Nations, who lived under Tents, after the manner of the Tartars, viz. the Lorians and Bachtilarians. Each of them was able to raise an Army of 20,000 Men, one of which was sufficient to force the Rebels [the Afghans] to raise the Siege [of the capital]. But because each Army was divided into two Factions, like the rest of the Kingdom, and because each those Factions was for depriving the other of the Honour that might accrue to it of having delivered the Capital, they could never agree to Make War together; so that this Army, which, if they had been united and acted in Concert, would have infallibly defeated the Rebels, and saved the King and Capital, was defeated itself, and put to flight because they were divided into two Bodies.

In the later Afshar and Zand periods, the Bakhtiari came more to the fore. They fought both with, and against, Nader Shah – with around two thousand Bakhtiari soldiers accompanying him to Herat. Reportedly, these men impatiently – and successfully – attacked when the Shah was resting. Nader Shah was not pleased at missing the glory of the conquest. Eventually a poet placated him by suggesting that the triumph was not due to the ‘Bakhtiari’, but rather ‘ba khtiari’ (with luck). There were also significant rebellions against Nader Shah. These were more united than in Krusinski’s report – and so more successful, although the ensuing fight-back from the Shah included various deportations of Bakhtiari to Khurasan. After the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, the banished Bakhtiari returned home.

In the nineteenth century, there were increasing numbers of reports on the Bakhtiari from European travellers [x-link to early European travellers section]. This reflects the perceived strategic and commercial importance of the area and the people – situated, as they were, on the shortest route from the Persian Gulf to Isfahan. 

Layard provided especially detailed reports from within one section of the Bakhtiari – with his close links to the Bakhtiari leader Mohammad Taghi Khan / Mehmet Taki Khan:

Kala Tul: the residence of the Bakhtiari chief

Kala Tul: the residence of the Bakhtiari chief.
In attempting to unite the Bakhtiari, Mohammad Taghi Khan was in some ways a fore-runner of Hossein Gholi Khan – although much less successful. He was the last truly powerful Chahar Lang khan.
Image from: Early adventures in Persia, Susiana and Babylonia, including a residence among the Bakhtiari. John Murray, 1894 edn