Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day





The Modern Era

1789 - 1914


Persia and Afghanistan

CA. 1800-1914


Competition between Great Britain and Russia over control of the "Asian hub" heavily influenced the history of Afghanistan and Persia in the 19th century. Russian plans for expansion in southern Asia presented a threat to India, the "crown jewel" of the British Empire. The European powers were threatening Persia and Afghanistan externally and striving for influence internally, destabilizing regimes in both countries. The discovery of oil in Persia in 1908 raised the stakes, but Afghanistan managed to secure a degree of autonomy as a buffer state between the Russian Empire and British India.


Persia: Dependency on the British and Russians

Two great powers, Great Britain and Russia, vied for control of Persia, and this was reflected in the increasing influence of these two on Persia's internal politics.


Fath Ali, the shah of Persia, suffered numerous defeats at the hands of the Russians during his reign. In the treaties of Golstan in 1813 and Turkmanchay in 1828, the Persians lost all their possessions in the Caucasus.

In the 1870s and 1880s, the 1 Russians again put further pressure on the country, occupying the Persian territories east of the Caspian Sea and south of the Aral Sea, and in 1884 the area around Merv.

1 Reception in the Russian embassy in Teheran in the 1830s

The internal strains grew as well.

Shah Nasir ad-Din, who had traveled throughout Europe, pursued a cautious reform policy during his 1848-1896 reign, which introduced a measure of European liberal thought into his country.

Great Britain had a particularly strong interest in and influence over the Persian economy. Asa result, the shah was forced to contend with powerful pro-British merchants who opposed the autocratic system and demanded a hand in decision making, while any concessions to reform were met with accusations of Europeanization from the influential Shiite clerics.

Since the 1840s, the shah had been fighting the Bab movement, which later gave rise to the 3 Baha'i faith.

He used harsh measures against this Islamic offshoot group and almost completely eradicated its followers after an attempted assassination in 1852.

Internal tension grew with every concession the shah made to the British, who, for example, demanded permission to build a railroad and industrialize the country. The granting of the tobacco trade monopoly to Britain provoked widespread protest. In October 1906, the shah was forced to summon a national assembly and establish a constitution, turning Persia into a constitutional monarchy.

Shah Muhammad Ali, who came to power the following year, attempted to reverse these changes, but 4 unrest and rebellions forced him to abdicate.

When Russia and Britain signed the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907 in St. Petersburg, they divided Persia into respective zones of influence which they proceeded to occupy in 1909.

2 Shah Nasir ad-Din

3 Abdu'l-Baha, son of the founder of
the religion of the Baha'i, preaching
the Baha'i faith in Constantinople

4 Rebel fighters during the unrest that
led to Muhammad Ali's abdication in 1907



Oilfields in Persia

Oil reserves were first discovered in Persia in 1908, and within a year the first processing refinery had been built. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company developed oilfields in the southwestern province of Khuzestan on the Persian Gulf, which today is thought to have more than 10 percent of the world's known oil reserves.

The British government secured a controlling interest in the company and occupied the region on the pretext of securing its commercial interests, which had previously been designated as "neutral territory" in an agreement with Russia.

 However, the British attempt to gain complete control of the country and the oil in the following decades failed, partly due to the hostility of the Persian population to foreign occupation.

Oilfield in Baku





Afghanistan: Precarious Independence

The Russians and British effectively neutralized each other in their struggle for strategic hegemony in Central Asia, thus permitting Afghanistan a precarious independence.


Ahmad Shah Durrani, who ascended to the throne in 1747, founded what is today known as Afghanistan. He expanded it in all directions, particularly into northern India. However, the empire had collapsed completely by 1818 due to internal divisions. In 1826, Dost Muhammad Khan captured Kabul and established a new emirate, which soon presented a threat to the interests of the British and Russians.

After Dost Muhammad opened 5 negotiations with the Russians, the British took the initiative and marched in.

5 An Afghan diplomatic envoy with
his entourage, Russia, 1830s

During the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838-1842, the British seized Kandahar and Ghazni. Shah Shuja, a grandson of Ahmad Shah Durrani, was installed as a sovereign acceptable to the British. A counterattack by Akbar Khan, son of Dost Muhammad, proved successful, and the British troops were forced to withdraw. Dost Muhammad once again took over his emirate, and the conflict ended peacefully with the Treaty of Peshawar in 1855.

When 6 Shir Ali Khan decided to resume dialogue with Russia in 1878 and refused to accept British representation in Kabul, the British army once again invaded Afghanistan.

6 Shir Ali Khan gives instructions to
his men during the Second
Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1879

This time, there was no reaction from the Afghans to the conquest of 9 Kabul during the 8 Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1879.

9  Conquest of Kabul by British forces in 1879

8 Fortress occupied by British troops
on the frontier with the Russian empire

In the 10 Treaty of Gandamak that ended the war, Yaqub Khan permanently conceded the 7 Khyber Pass and other territories to Great Britain; the British made guarantees of protection from foreign aggression but retained the right to import British products and control Afghan foreign affairs.

In 1893, the Durand Treaty fixed the frontiers of Afghanistan with British India, which forms the present Afghan-Pakistan border.

In 1907 Afghanistan became independent indirectly, when Russia and Great Britain reached an agreement to abandon territorial claims there. Afghanistan effectively became a buffer state between the two major powers, and despite the Anglo-Russian alliance, Kabul remained neutral during the First World War. Britain, however, retained its influence in the country, and especially Afghan foreign policy, until 1919, when the heir to the throne was assassinated due to resentment of the pro-British stance of the monarchy.

10 Signing of the Treaty of Gandamak, May,1879

7 Summit of Mount Hindukush