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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Tuesday 14 May 2024

Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran

 I have hankered after doing the Russo-Persian Wars for a while. There were many, but the early 19th century ones offered a new opponent for my Napoleonic Russians and the Ottomans were involved as well. I was in a second-hand bookshop in York when I spotted this book by Lawrence Kelly, which didn't seem like much of a punt at £3.99. It covers the life of the writer and diplomat Alexander Griboyedov, who played a crucial role in relations with Russia in this period. He was murdered by a mob in Tehran in 1829.

The background was the  Russo-Persian War of 1804-1813, fought over territorial disputes in the South Caucasus region. The Russian Empire, expanding southwards, sought to consolidate its control over the territories in the Caucasus, including Georgia, which had been formally annexed by Russia in 1801. This move antagonised Persia, which had historical claims over the region. The war concluded with the Treaty of Gulistan, signed on October 24, 1813. The terms of the treaty heavily favoured Russia, which gained control over vast territories in the South Caucasus, including modern-day Dagestan, eastern Georgia, most of Azerbaijan, and parts of Armenia. The modern links are obvious!

Griboyedov's linguistic skills and deep understanding of Eastern cultures made him a valuable asset to the Russian Empire's diplomatic efforts in the area. He was on the staff of the Russian governor, General Yermolov, who was the main driver of Russian imperialism in the region. The Persians had a regiment of Russian deserters, and one of Griboyedov's first missions to Tehran was to negotiate their return. He also encouraged the Persians in their conflict with the Ottomans, which ended in 1823.

Griboyedov's career nearly came to a sticky end when he dabbled on the fringes of the Decembrist Revolt that aimed to overthrow the new Tsar Alexander. Several of his friends were executed, and others were exiled to Siberia. Griboyedov's most significant literary work is 'Woe from Wit', a play that satirises the Russian aristocracy and bureaucratic society. It was banned, but copies were widely circulated.

War broke out again in 1826, and Griboyedov played an active role in the conflict as an aide to the new Russian commander, General Paskievich. Initial Persian success was countered by the Russians, who captured Tabriz, forcing the Persians to sue for peace. Griboyedov negotiated the Treaty of Turkmenchay on February 21, 1828, on terms highly favourable to Russia and returned to Moscow as a hero. Russia acquired additional territories, including the Erivan (Yerevan) and Nakhchivan Khanates, solidifying its control over the South Caucasus.

Persia struggled to pay the financial indemnities under the treaty, and Griboyedov and his embassy in Tehran were slaughtered by an angry mob. As the Russians were fighting another war against the Ottomans, it was in everyone's interest to play down the incident.

The book covers all the events of the period and Griboyedov's involvement. It is very light on the military aspects of the conflicts, so further reading will be required.

So, how do we tackle this on the wargame table? Mark Conrad translated a Russian work on the Persian army of the Qajar dynasty, which was helpful. Irregular Miniatures has a decent range in 15mm. Khurasan Miniatures in the US also have a range, as do Black Hussar (they look stunning) in 28mm. It would need to be a big project to justify US postage charges to the UK, so I will settle for 15mm. As it happens, Mark Bevis is selling off his 15mm armies on eBay, so I have bought a few infantry units and ordered some cavalry from Irregular. We will see where we go from there. Famous last words from a wargamer! 


  1. For information- Wargame Vault has “The Persian Army of the Napoleonic Era” by David F Brown (Evil Gong Press). $10 for the PDF, it’s also available in paperback.
    I must admit I like the Irregular Miniatures 15mm Napoleonic Persians - especially the militiamen with mace and shield… IM also have a range of Armies of the Caucasus - again, quite nice. I could be tempted by this, but can’t decide specifically which armies to build, but would almost certainly be either The Portable Wargame or One Hour Wargame, to keep the figure numbers relatively low (so achievable).

    1. Thanks. That is excellent. Just what I need and quickly downloaded.