AFŻAL-AL-MOLK KERMĀNI, ḠOLĀM-ḤOSAYN (b. Tehran, 20 Moḥarram 1279/23 July 1862; d. Tehran, 23 Moḥarram 1348/1 July 1929), a prominent Iranian historian, bureaucrat, and poet of the late Qajar period. A renowned polymath and accomplished writer, he is best known for his work Afżal al-tawāriḵ chronicling the first half of Moẓaffar-al-Dīn Shah’s reign (r. 1896-1907), a local history and geography of Qom, and numerous travelogues detailing conditions in Qajar provincial communities.

Life and career. As Afżdal-al-Molk notes frequently in his writings, he was a direct descendant of Karim Khan Zand (r. 1750-79) through his paternal line (see, for instance, Afżal al-Molk, 1989,p. 125). His father, Mehdi Khan Širāzi Zandi, was a member of the prominent Zand family of Shiraz, but had fled to Tehran after a dispute with the provincial governor Ḥosayn Khan Neẓām-al-Dawla. In Tehran, Mehdi Khan entered the service of the Qajar government through the intercession of Emām-qoli Mirzā ʿEmād-al-Dawla and married the daughter of Āqā Sayyed Ḥosayn Kāšāni. There are some significant gaps in Afżal-al-Molk’s early biography, as he is exceedingly brief in relating his personal circumstances. We do not even know the name of his mother. We can assume from his ascription (nesba)Kermāni,” that he was raised and educated in Kerman. However, neither Aḥmad-ʿAli Khan Waziri’s history and geography of Kerman, nor two updated and corrected versions of the text from the early 20th century, each of which attempts a comprehensive overview of the local elites, make any mention of Afżal-al-Molk or his family.

His family’s wealth and their connections to the Qajar bureaucracy and Zand family in Tehran and Shiraz were sufficient to afford him opportunities and access in his early life. Afżal-al-Molk was highly educated and became a renowned polymath, excelling in a wide range of fields including composition, accounting, jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, and history (Afżal-al-Molk, 2010, p. 17). He took a special interest in Arabic and became an accomplished poet and translator of Arabic texts. In 1884, at age 22, he made a trip to Karbala to advance in his study of Arabic and to connect with learned men and poets in the city. He wrote an account of his travels and experiences in Karbala in his Safar-nāma-ye Karbalā. This was the first of several travel writings he produced over his career.

He received the title Afżal-al-Molk during his long period of service to the Qajar kingdom. For fourteen years, he served as an official translator for the royal court and member of the Dār al-taʾlif, translating political correspondence and news reports from Arabic into Persian. These primarily involved materials related to the Qajars’ important and delicate political relationships with the Ottoman Empire and Egypt  (Afżal-al-Molk, 2010, p. 16). During this time, he worked closely with Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Ṣalṭana, the court historian and minister of press and publications (wazir-e enṭebāʿāt), who had a significant influence on his life and career (Afżal-al-Molk, 1989, p. 2). Afżal-al-Molk sporadically held other posts in Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s administration. He served in the governance and tax administration of various rural and tribal communities, as a financial officer in Khorasan, and in 1887 to direct the finances of Qom, Sāva, and Zarand. He was then appointed nadim-bāši (chief attendant) in 1889, served several years in Khorasan under Moḥammad-Taqi Mirzā Rokn-al-Dawla, and was present for a brief time in Sabzavār. He wrote a brief account of an official trip to Isfahan in 1890-91 (Afżal-al-Molk, 2001). From there, he was appointed to Qom, during which time he composed a local history and geography of the area, published later as Tāriḵ wa joḡrāfiā-ye Qom (Afżal-al-Molk, 1977).

Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96) was assassinated in 1896. The installation of a new sovereign, Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah, brought a significant change of circumstances to Afżal-al-Molk’s career. Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah issued a royal command (farmān) appointing Afżal-al-Molk his official registrar of events and court historian. He also received the official title of Mostawfi Divān (Afżal-al-Molk, 1982, p. 25).  Afżal-al-Molk penned the official account of the coronation and early history of Moẓaffar-al-Din’s ascension to power and then, as court historian, he compiled the Afżal al-tawārīḵ, a five volume chronicle history of the reign of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah from 1896 to 1900 (Afżal-al-Molk, 1982).

In 1902 he took a prolonged trip to Khorasan and from there crossed the Kavir-e Lut to Kerman. In the beginning of the travel account, Safar-nāma-ye Ḵorāsān wa Kermān, he notes that although he was no longer present in Tehran, nor responsible for maintaining an official court history, he maintained the title of Mostawfi Divān and was conducting this trip in an official capacity for the Qajar court (Afżal-al-Molk, 1989, p. 11). Later, he was present in Māzandāran during the Constitutional Revolution (1906-11) and wrote an account of developments there. This is notable as one of a handful of accounts of provincial developments at this important moment in Iran’s history (Afżal-al-Molk, 1995).

Works. Afżal-al-Molk was an especially gifted observer and writer with a breadth of historical and geographical knowledge reflected in his works. His education and literary accomplishments come through clearly in his travelogues and histories, which are written in clear, simple prose without pretense or excessive embellishment.  Moḥammad-Reżā Qaṣābiān notes at least nineteen known works and translations penned by Afżal-al-Molk, including travel writings, a court chronicle, a local history of Qom, Arabic poetry, and various translations of foreign works into Persian (Qaṣābiān). His historical and safar-nāma writings in particular offer a lucid view of affairs of the late 19th- and early 20th-century Iran, both in centers of power and in the court’s delicate relations with elites in the empire’s “guarded domains” (mamālek-e maḥrusa).

Afżal-al-Molk’s best known work is his Afżal-al-tawāriḵ, an official court history of Qajar Iran between 1896 and 1900. He wrote this work as an official court historian under Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah, a position he received shortly after the assassination of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah. The text is divided into five volumes, each covering one hejri year. Based on his extensive travels and knowledge of Iranian history, geography, and culture, he gives a broad perspective on developments beyond the usual concerns at court over international affairs, administrative appointments, and military matters. The court chronicle tradition of maintaining an official court record of events was fading in the closing decade of the 19th century with the advent of print journalism. Afżal al-tawāriḵ is thus a transitional text in a rapidly changing genre. This text includes wide-ranging and lengthy discussions of historical and political context on current issues affecting Iran and the Qajar state. For instance, in pressing claims to Khuzestan and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam, he delves into a lengthy discourse on Iran’s historical geography (pp. 299-304), and elsewhere criticizes inaccuracies in the court’s geographical compendium, namely, Merʾāt al-boldān by Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana.He also comments critically on the political advances and commercial treaties pushed by the Russian and British Empires and the Qajars’ inabilities to check their growing influence (p. 155). He was especially disturbed by the painful debt accumulated by the central government. Reflecting on the staggering loans accumulated by the Qajars, he comments that “now I seek the comfort of a little contentment, and my life has mostly passed, but in this age the fortune of Iranians will not be a good one.”  He retains a little optimism, recalling at length a long history of Iranian resilience (pp. 395-98).

Afżal-al-Molk’s travel writings are of particular interest to the social, political, and economic history of late Qajar Iran. His Ẓafar-nāma-ye ʿażodi recounts his travels in Khorasan in 1884-85, with particular emphasis on conditions in Mashhad. He traveled to Isfahan in 1890, and wrote a detailed study of rural conditions, craft production, and political developments throughout the province and its capital city. The most detailed of these travel works is his local history and geography of Qom, Tāriḵ wa joḡrāfiā-ye Qom. This work appears to be closely connected to the genre of local geographical writings produced at the request of the Qajar court in the closing decades of the 19th century, although this text, along with Nāder Mirzā’s local history of Tabriz, are notable for having been written by a Qajar appointee rather than a member of the local elite (Gustafson, pp. 819-22). This must speak to the high esteem in which he was held by the Qajar court. In his second safar-nāma of Khorasan, he combined his trip with a visit to Kerman. Notably, he takes the long route through the Kavīr-e Lut, describing the borderlands in great detail and making suggestions about building Qajar infrastructure there, perhaps a railway. His Māzandāran travelogue, written during the Constitutional Revolution, gives significant details on the political situation in the provinces during this important period in Iran’s modern history. He frequently engaged locals in political discussions and religious concerns. His writings reveal an ambivalence towards the revolution, echoing British and Russian criticisms of the disorder and uncertainty it had caused, as well as widening the rift he saw between prominent elements of the ulema and the Qajar government  (Afżal-al-Molk, 1995, p. 65).

Although he is remembered also as an accomplished poet, his works in this area have not been published or received significant attention by scholars. A collection of his poetry and other writings is registered in the Mālek Library (Afżal-al-Molk, n. d.). Among his translations, in addition to numerous governmental records prepared from Arabic sources, is an edited translation of Sir Percy SykesTen Thousand Miles in Persia, prepared in collaboration with Naṣr-Allāh Khan Širāzi. Ironically, Sykes’ original text includes large sections of material on Iranian history drawn from Persian language sources and local interlocutors, translated into English in summary without citation, and then retranslated back into Persian.



Mokātebāt wa yāddāšthā wa ašʿār, Mālek Library ms. 623, n.d., n.p.  

Safar-nāma-ye Kārbalā, n.p., 1884.

Tāriḵ wa joḡrāfiā-ye Qom, ed. Ḥosayn Modarresi Ṭabāṭabāʾi, as “Ketābča-ye tafṣil wa ḥālāt-e Dār-al-Imān-e Qom,” Farhang-e Irān-Zamin, 22, 1977, pp. 67-150.

Afżal al-tawāriḵ, ed. Manṣura Etteḥadiya and Sirus Saʿdvandiān, Tehran, 1982.

Safar-nāma-ye Ḵorāsān wa Kermān, ed. Qodrat-Allāh Rawšani, Tehran, 1989.

Safar-e Māzandarān wa waqāyeʿ-e mašruṭa: Rokn al-asfār, Tehran, 1995.

Safar-nāma-ye Eṣfahān, Tehran, 2001.

Ẓafar-nāma-ye ʿażodi: Zād al-mosāfer 1301 h.q., Mashhad, 2010.

Secondary references.

James M. Gustafson, “Geographical Literature in Nineteenth-Century Iran,” JESHO 59, 2016, pp. 793-827.

Ḥosayn Modarresi Ṭabāṭāʾi, Ketābšenāsi-ye āṯār-e marbuṭ ba Qom, Qom, 1974, pp. 119-24.

Nāder Mirzā, Tāriḵ wa joḡrāfi-ye Dār-al-Salṭana-ye Tabriz, Tehran, 1905.

Moḥammad-Reżā Qaṣābiān, “Moʿarrefi-ye nosḵa-ye ḵaṭṭi-ye Ẓafar-nāma-ye ʿażodi bā Negāh-i be āṯār-e Afżal-al-Molk,” Ketāb-e māh 73, 2003,pp. 45-52.

Percy Sykes, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, tr. Naṣr-Allāh Khan Nawwāb-e Širāzi, as Tāriḵ-e Kermān, ed. Afżal-al-Molk Kermāni, n.p., 1904.

Aḥmad-ʿAli Khan Waziri Kermāni, Joḡrāfiā-ye Kermān, ed. Moḥammad-Ebrāhim Bāstāni Pārizi, Tehran, 1974.

(James M. Gustafson)

Originally Published: December 7, 2017

Last Updated: December 7, 2017

Cite this entry:

James M. Gustafson, “AFŻAL-AL-MOLK KERMĀNI,, ḠOLĀM-ḤOSAYN,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2017, available at (accessed on 7 December 2017).