The Qajar & Pahlavi Dynasties


The purpose of these pages is to give a brief description of the principal Persian and Iranian orders and decorations of honour. The literature on them is sketchy, and what there is tends to be inaccurate or confusing, the Imperial firmans (decrees) that deal with the orders, included. This compounded further by a recent sizeable, but somewhat misleading entry on decorations in the Encyclopaedia Iranca.

The article in the Encyclopaedia Iranca has formed the basis for several further essays and websites around the world, adding still further to confusion and error. For example, two orders are stated to be Pahlavi creations, but then dated several years before the reign of the first Pahlavi Shah. Another order is said to have been founded seven years before it ever came into existence. Yet another order is supposed to have been instituted some thirty-eight years after its actual foundation, and undoubted continuous use in the years between. Hopefully, the effort made in these pages will help correct some of the more obvious myths and contribute a little towards the understanding of these unique orders and decorations.

H.I.M. Nasir ud-din Shah Qajar
wearing around his neck the Sovereign's badges of the Commander of the Faithful Decoration (L)
and the Order of the Lion and Sun (R), together with the Sovereign's sash of blue moiré.

The institution of Persian decorations of honour originate in the early nineteenth century, when France and Britain competed for influence at the court of Fath 'Ali Shah. Napoleon I despatched a French military mission to offer an alliance together with a team to train the Persian army along modern European lines. He hoped to establish a local ally who would serve French military ambitions in the area by co-operating in harrying the British.

The government of British India, keenly sensing the ultimate objective of the French as being dominion of India, quickly sought to secure themselves from impending peril by courting the Shah themselves. Elaborate embassies bearing gifts and treasures dispatched to Tehran in order to woo the shrewd ruler. Within a few years, the British had secured treaty rights and displaced the French as military advisers and arms suppliers. The Iranian game of playing one foreign power against another, had begun, one that would lead to tragic consequences in the century to come.

Increasing contact with Europeans and their employment by the Shah made traditional methods for rewarding faithful service no longer sufficient or appropriate. Persian titles had little meaning to foreigners and grants of cash sums and lands, forbidden or frowned upon by disapproving governments. Decorations of honour served as an innovative, satisfying and relatively inexpensive means of conferring honour and recognising merit. They even became popular with the Shah's Persian subjects, creating a new means by which he could demonstrate and extend his beneficence and largesse.

Qajar Orders and Decorations:

Nishan-i-Temtal-i-Amir ul-Mumenin (the Portrait of the Commander of the Faithful Decoration)
Nishan-i-Agdas (the Imperial Order of the Aqdas, or the Most Sacred Order)
Nishan-i-Tamtal-i-Humayun (the Decoration of the Imperial Portrait)
Nishan-i-Taj-i-Iran (the Order of the Crown of Persia)
Nishan-i-Khurshid (the Order of the Sun)
Nishan-i-Shir u Khurshid (the Imperial Order of the Lion and Sun)
Nishan-i-Aftab (the Imperial Order of the Sun for Ladies)
Nishan-i-Zulfikhar (the Order of Zulfikhar, or the Sword of 'Ali)
Nishan-i-Sipah (the Order of Sipah)
Nishan-i-Ilmi (the Order of Arts and Sciences)

H.I.M. Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi
He wears around his neck, the badge of the Order of Sipah first class. The collar and collar badge, sash and breast star (L) of the Order of Pahlavi. The breast star of the order of Zulfikhar (R). On his medal bar, from left to right: the badge of the Order of Zulfikhar 1st class, the Third Isfand Decoration 1st class, the badges of the Orders of Sipah, Merit, Glory, and Honour, the Gold Medal of Merit, unidentified, unidentified, unidentified.

Pahlavi Orders and Decorations:

Nishan-i-Pahlavi (the Order of Pahlavi)
Nishan-i-Zulfikhar (the Order of Zulfikhar, or the Sword of 'Ali)
Nishan-i-Aryamehr (the Order of the Light of the Aryans)
Nishan-i-Taj-i-Iran (the Order of the Crown of Iran)
Nishan-i-Haft Paykar (the Order of the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters)
Nishan-i-Humayun (the Order of Humayun, or the Imperial Order)
The Third Isfand Decoration.
Nishan-i-Sipah (the Order of Sipah)
Nishan-i-Liaqat (the Order of Merit)
Nishan-i-Iftikhar (the Order of Glory)
Nishan-i-Kidmat (the Order of Honour)
Nishan-i-Daraksh (the Order of Splendour)
Nishan-i-Danesh (the Order of Danesh)
Nishan-i-Honar (the Order of the Arts)
Nishan-i-Pas (the Order of Pas)
Nishan-i-Avecinna (the Order of Avecinna)
Nishan-i-Razy (the Order of Avecinna)
The Bazneshastag Badge - no details.
The Sarbolandy Badge
The Hamkar Badge - no details


L. Brasier and J.L. Brunet, Les Ordres Persans, Actualites Diplomatiques & Coloniales, Arthus Bertrand et Beranger, Paris, 1902.
Eskandari-Kadjar, Manoutchehr, Qajar Dynasty Pages, Internet 1999-2000:
Persia: Military Attache's Intelligence Summary No. 12, Period 24th - 30th March, 1947. E 3084/17/34. Iran Political Diaries, 1881-1965, Volume 13, p. 300.
Piemontese, Angelo M., The Statutes of the Qajar Orders of Knighthood. East and West Quarterly, New Series, Volume 19, Nos 3-4, September - December 1969, Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (IsMEO), Rome, 1969.
Rosignoli, Guido, Ribbons of Orders, Decorations and Medals. Blandford Press Ltd., Poole, Dorset, 1976.
Stiot, Commissaire General R.D. Les Ordres du Croissant Turc et du Soleil Levant en Perse ou deux influences rivales en Orient, Revue Belge d'Histoire Militaire, XVI-7/8, Bruxelles, 1966.
Werlich, Robert, Orders and Decorations of All Nations, Ancient and Modern, Civil and Military. Quaker Press, Washington DC. Second Edition. 1990.
Wright, Sir Denis, "Sir John Malcolm and the Order of the Lion and Sun". Iran, Volume XVII, pp 135-141, The British Institute of Persian Studies, London, 1979.
Wright, Denis, "The Order of the Lion and Sun". Short Notices, Iran, Volume XIX, pp 179-180, The British Institute of Persian Studies, London, 1981.
Yarshater, E. (ed.). Encyclopaedia Irancia, New York, 1982.

Special Acknowledgement

Farhad Sepahbody.
I would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have changes, corrections or additions to contribute. Please contact me at:

Copyright(c)Christopher Buyers, August 2002