Nov. 8, 2021

The Last Afghan Empire of Ahmad Shah Durrani (Part 1)

The Last Afghan Empire of Ahmad Shah Durrani (Part 1)

Who was Ahmad Shah Durrani?

Ahmad Shah Durrani was an Afghan chieftain who rose to power leading Persian armies in the 18th century.

After his Persian overlord was murdered he threw off the yoke of oppression and declared an independent Afghan state for his people.

But could one man unite the disparate and quarrelling tribes of the Afghanistan into the Durrani empire?

Spotify podcast player badge
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
Castro podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge
YouTube Channel podcast player badge

Further Reading:

  • An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India by Mountstuart Elphinstone (1815)
  • Ahmed Durrani Durani, Father of Modern Afghanistanby Ghanda Singh (1959)
  • Panipat By T. S. Shejwalkar (1761)



  • Who was Ahmad Shah Durrani
    • Ahmad Shah Durrani was a Pashtun from the 18th century. He is remembered as the first to unite the tribes of Afghanistan.
  • Ahmad Shah Durrani or Abdali
    • Abdali was his clan name, Durrani was the name he took on as a title after his crowning.
  • How Ahmad Shah Durrani died
    • Ahmad Shah Durrani died of a unclear illness that may have been cancer. He had a festering face wound which progressively worsened which may have contributed.
  • What was Ahmad Shah Durrani's treasure?
    • The Kohinoor diamond was looted by Ahmad Shah Durrani from Nadar Shah, after his death.


  • The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod
  • licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

    Artist: YAP Audio Productions 
    Sound effects obtained from

    'I Wont Surrender' by Michael Ramir C
    Drawing the Sky by Eugenio Mininni
    Licensed under Mixkit free license

  • Music by Jordan Winslow –


It's 1747, the Persian warlord Nader Shah has begun to lose his grip on reality.

His growing paranoia, acts of cruelty and steep taxes have left him isolated from his


Everything finally balls over one night when his bodyguards sneak into his tent and murder

him while he sleeps.

Mayhem spreads through the camp as news spreads.

With the Shah of Shahs lying in a pool of his own blood in his royal tent, a fragile

link holding his army together is severed.

His generals quickly turn on each other, clamoring for control of the dead king's vast empire.

One of those men is Ahmad Shah Durrani.

Politically unique as the only Afghan holding a position of power in the Shah's inner circle,

he knows he is the first one on the hit list.

In the midst of the chaos and confusion, the young Pashtun man snatches up the Shah's most

prized possession.

The Khori Noor, a flawless diamond the size of a child's fist, and with a few of his men

he disappears into the balmy desert night.

But this was not to be the last time history would hear of Ahmad Shah Durrani.

Years of mentorship and guidance under the Persian conqueror had left a long-lasting

impression on him.

If Nader Shah could carve an empire from nothing, what was stopping him?

My name's Elliot Gates and you're listening to Anthology of Heroes, the podcast telling

the stories of heroes from across the globe.

And this is the story of Ahmad Shah Abdali, better known to history as Ahmad Shah Durrani,

the father of Afghanistan.

Just a quick note before we get started.

If you're a longtime listener and you thought that sounded a little bit familiar, you're

not wrong.

This is a re-upload of a very old episode which had suffered pretty badly due to the

cheap microphone I used at the time and the equalizing which I hadn't learned properly.

I only recently realized how badly it sounded like I was recording underwater in a wind


So as the episode was so popular but suffered from such a huge drop-off of listeners after

the crappy audio quality put everyone off, I thought it was about time to fix it.

I know your time is precious, so if you've listened to the original, yes, this is pretty

much the same story with a few sentences cleaned up, so I won't blame you if you switch it


If you're still here with me, great.

Here we go with the story of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the father of Afghanistan.

Ahmad Shah Durrani was born in a region known as Multan, roughly in central Pakistan today.

Multan is a pretty mountainous place peppered with lush green hills, deep valleys and hidden


People of this region lived a tribal existence.

A man's loyalty was to his family and to his tribe.

There was no sense of unity in being Afghani, so to speak.

The tribal lifestyle revolves around the seasons.

Each family had a semi-nomadic life, moving their cattle onto better pastures as seasons

changed while also having small-scale farms in a permanent place.

At this period of time, taxes were levied on these tribes by the Persians, usually in

the form of gold, trade goods or manpower.

Ahmad Shah Durrani's tribe, known as the Abdalis, had a reputation of being extremely

hardy and fierce in battle, so they usually provided warriors for the Persians in taxation.

Despite their obvious uses, the Abdalis had fallen out of favor with the Persian overlords

in the last few years.

They'd had a few shots at independence, which was obviously frowned upon.

But recently, Nader Shah, the current Persian ruler, was able to court the Abdalis and eventually

win their favor and loyalty.

The Abdali horsemen quickly became a core component of the Shah's army, and a charismatic

young man with a thick black beard and warm personality was noticed by Nader Shah, who

initially promoted him to his personal attendant.

This was Ahmad Shah Abdali.

As time went on, the two became very close, so much so that the Persian had even started

plans to make Ahmad Shah Durrani his successor, looking on him as a kind of surrogate son.

A story goes that Nader Shah had a mystic read the face of Ahmad Shah Durrani.

The face, and especially our eyes, have always been considered windows to the soul, and the

Shah wanted to see what destiny had in store for his young friend.

After feeling the curves and contours of the young Afghan's face, the mystic concluded

that this man would one day be a king.

Already suspecting something like this himself, Nader Shah then calmly clipped a corner of

the young man's ear with scissors, before requesting that he remember this and be kind

to his family members in the future.

Once Ahmad agreed, Nader Shah pointed to the disfigurement of his ear and said that he

would be reminded of the promise every time he sees his own reflection, a promise that

would be tested several times in the future.

Just a note on names, Khan, Shah and Nawab all translate to something like ruler, commander

or emperor, but they're also common parts of names, so to be simple I'll use these

more generic terms such as ruler or king in place of these titles, but we'll stick with

them as part of the names.

In his youth, Nader Shah had been vibrant, charismatic, brave and pious, but as time

had gone on and he survived one assassination attempt after another, he began to close himself

away from all but a few of his commanders.

His paranoia led to widespread purges of military personnel and increased taxes saw many provinces

begin to incite rebellion against him.

The Persian became more cruel and more volatile, when before he had eagerly requested opinions

on his plans, he now dictated them to his generals who knew better than to speak up.

The final straw came on the 20th of June, 1747, when he put an order for the majority

of his closest bodyguards to be arrested and executed.

Unhappy with their loyalty to them and fearing that they may be trying to murder him, he

sent his generals to gather them all up.

Unwilling to condemn their men to death for no reason, the generals decide enough is enough,

the Shah needs to go.

Later that night, they sneak into his tent and stab him to death.

After the deed is done, Ahmed Shah is the first one to find the body.

Despite Nader Shah's cruelty, he'd been something of a mentor to Ahmed and the murder was a

shock to him.

He felt a sense of guilt that he was not there to defend his king.

But what was done was done.

After saluting his monarch for one final time, Ahmed prizes the royal seal off Nader's dead

finger and pockets it along with the Khuri Noor, a massive diamond that conveyed regality

and prestige.

Knowing that there was nothing else for him here, his Afghan contingent slip away and

let the Persian generals fight it out.

A successor is eventually picked by the military, but by this time the Afghans are long gone.

After they arrive home, a tribal council recognizes how unsecure the Afghan position is and the

immediate threat of Nader Shah's successor who will probably try and subjugate them again.

They'd tried independence before and had always been forced into submission.

After much discussion, Ahmed was elected unanimously.

After all, he undoubtedly had the most military experience and understood the Persians better

than anyone.

To make it all official, an Islamic mullah, a sort of scholar, poured wheat over his turban,

a traditional Afghan blessing to signify the star of the rule.

We've got a picture of this on our website.

And with this, Ahmed Shah Abdali became Ahmed Shah Durrani, taking on the title of Durri

Durran or Pearl of Pearls.

As the wheat colonels flooded over his turban, Ahmed had a theoretical territory, but who

was to run the administration and what of the tribes who didn't recognize his authority?

A lucky break came to Ahmed early on as he captured a rich caravan of supplies heading

to Nader Shah's successor as tribute.

He distributed the loot generously among his followers, which helped sway many tribes who

were on the fence about his rule in this point of time.

Making use of the chaos that follows a ruler's death, he kept things exactly as it was for

the local emirs and the territory he claimed, saying, hey, you just keep doing exactly what

you're doing, you keep all the privileges you enjoyed under Nader Shah, everything stays

exactly the same, it's just the taxes go to me.

When he needed, he would grease the gears of diplomacy with gifts and money and his

personality also helped.

As a fellow Afghan, tribal leaders were more willing to pay tax to him rather than some

foreign king.

He forgave many tribes who were slow or even unwilling to submit to his authority initially.

Many of these leaders were not used to sharing any authority, so he usually gave them a bit

of leeway.

These were his people and diplomacy would always come before the sword.

He made an impression on the population by his devoutness to Islam also, always taking

the time out of his day to visit dervishes or mullahs in towns that he passed through

and show his respects.

Despite being a man of personally quite simple tastes, he understood the importance of the

spoils of war and took all the steps needed to distribute loot as evenly as possible,

making no distinction between different tribes.

If you fought, you were paid, end of story.

He set about creating a professional army, which was not an easy task.

He needed to unite many tribes with longstanding feuds against each other, the Durrani tribe


Inclusivity was the key and he wanted to ensure all major groups felt represented, so he created

a council of nine of the most important tribal leaders who he would consult regularly throughout

his reign.

He also created an Afghan postal service, making communication a lot more speedy.

He removed bureaucracy that made it hard for men of different tribes to advance their careers.

A man was now able to rise through the ranks of his army regardless of their tribal background.

The message was clear, we are one people and together we are strong.

His efforts began to pay off as many tribes were lured under his banner with dreams of

plunder or patriotism.

Soon enough, he had 40,000 troops, mostly like cavalry.

With an army assembled, the Durrani war machine looked for its first campaign.

To the eastern borders lay the mighty Mughal Empire.

With territories spanning most of the northern half of India, all of Pakistan, and parts

of Afghanistan, it was a fearsome beast indeed.

At least that was the story on paper.

The reality was very different.

Humbled already by the conquests of Nader Shah, the empire was overrun with different

groups agitating for independence from the fracturing central government.

The main ones, for the purpose of this story, were the Marathis, which were roughly mid-west

India, the Sikhs, far north-west India, and the Jats, central India.

The Mughal Empire himself was a guy named Mirza Ahmed Shah, yeah I know Ahmed Shah,

sorry about that, we'll shorten this one to Mirza to help you keep track.

Anyway, Mirza had a really rough deal when he came to the throne.

The Mughal bureaucracy was a rotten apple, corrupted to the core by decades of easy living

and decadence.

If the government was involved, nothing ever got done quickly.

Every mobilization or attempt at a reform was made near impossible by the amount of

bribes that had to be issued at every turn.

Court rivals fought viciously and taxed the peasantry harshly to keep up their lavish


So ingrained with this culture that it wasn't unheard of for courtiers to pay invading armies

to ransack parts of the empire that were run by their rivals at court just to humiliate


The Grand Mughal, which was the title that they used for emperor, theoretically could

field an army of 100,000 strong in the same way that I could theoretically climb the empire

state building.

It was a paper tiger and Ahmed Shah Durrani had seen firsthand what a well-disciplined

army could do during his time serving with the Persians.

First up was the major city of Kabul, a city made of ethnic Afghans considered by the Durranis

to be well within their territory.

It was run by one of the few of Nader Shah's governors who refused to acknowledge Ahmed

Shah's supremacy, instead shifting his allegiance to the Mughals.

Knowing that the countryside around Kabul was populated mainly by ethnic Afghans, Ahmed

Durrani wrote to the emirs and received their guarantee of support against what most of

them saw as a foreign occupier.

Things went according to plan.

When the Afghan army arrived at the gates of Kabul, the unpopular governor and his forces

melted away and he fled back to the Mughal heartland.

And just like that, Kabul, the current capital of Afghanistan, was annexed.

Kabul was taken easily, but that was an Afghan city.

If Ahmed Shah Durrani wanted to continue the march east into the rich Mughal territory,

he needed a reason to do so.

It didn't have to wait long.

The governor of Lahore had been bickering with his brother and co-ruler for control

of the city for quite some time.

The relationship had sailed to the point of street battles, one side against the other.

One of the brothers requested Ahmed's help in removing his brother and his troublesome

supporters from power, permanently, requesting only to be left in charge of Lahore, which

he would govern in the name of the Durrani empire.

The Pearl of Pearls generously agreed.

Another easy conquest seemed close by.

Mobilizing his army, Ahmed Durrani started the march to Lahore.

However, the brother who invited him suddenly had a change of heart.

It seemed his uncle had found out about his dirty deal, and he dressed him down for such

a cowardly and despicable act, inviting a foreigner to take on his own brother.

Banging the heads of his quarrelsome nephews together, the uncle forced the two brothers

to shake on it and make up.

With the argument now put to bed, the brother wrote to Ahmed Shah Durrani, who was already

on the way, and said, hey, appreciate the offer, but we're actually all good now,

so you can head back.

Which of course they didn't.

He was getting assistance, whether he wanted it or not.

As the army approached, Ahmed Durrani heard tale of a popular dervish, that's a form

of Islamic mystic in a way, who was executed by having molten silver poured down his throat

in a fortress close to Lahore.

Disgusted by the treatment of this holy figure, Ahmed Durrani quickened the pace of his march,

eager to ensure the safe passage of other religious figures inside the city.

With the help of their uncle, the two brothers scraped together an army to meet the Durranis.

The army was in place and they were ready to go, they just had to ask one of the brothers

for a final go ahead.

The brother consulted an astrologist who consulted the stars and planets.

The planets had bad news, it was not a good time to attack.

The order was given not to attack, which was interpreted in various ways by different sub-commanders.

Some began retreating, others holding their ground, and a few ignored it completely.

In the confusion, a huge cache of Mughal artillery was left virtually unguarded, the Durranis

quickly took advantage of it.

Now in possession of the one thing they lacked, the artillery was turned on the city of Lahore

and over the course of the night, the morale inside crumbled.

Anyone of importance fled the city with their family before sunrise.

The two brothers didn't need an astrologer to tell them Lahore was lost and they slipped

away with whatever they could carry.

The next day, the Durrani troops entered the city.

Without Ahmed's attempt to maintain order, a good portion of the city was sacked and

many buildings destroyed, with the exception of holy shrines which were vigorously defended.

The plunder was enormous, not just gold and jewels but also caches and caches of state

of the art artillery and several thousand war horses.

The Pearl of Pearls rested here for some time, distributing booty and overseeing the administration

of the new region, all while trying to get a hand on the logistics of thousands of new

recruits now seeking enrollment in his army.

The capture of the artillery was a huge boon to the fortunes of Ahmad Shah.

His army, prior to this, was mostly made up of light cavalry.

They were levied from tribes, had little uniformity and wore only cloth armour, fighting with

swords, muskets, spears, whatever they had.

And the usual strategy was one heavy shock charge designed to break the enemy quickly.

But supplementing this, they had a uniquely Afghan military unit I'd never heard of.

It was called a zimbarak, or swivel, and it's a camel saddled with a kind of medium-sized

hand cannon on its back which could be fired and operated by a single rider.

The rider would dismount, have the camel sit down and steady itself and then fire the cannon

before retreating, distance and repeating.

It's quite clever really, we've got a picture of one of these on our Instagram and website.

With the fall of Lahore, the news reached the Mughal court quickly of the up-and-coming

Afghan state.

As they started to panic, the Mughal war machine slowly lumbered into gear, emphasis on slowly.

The Grand Mughal sent out a mustering call, but there were numerous delays from opium

induced stupors, bad astrologic glomons and poor health, which meant by the time the Afghan

army had already started marching, the Mughal forces had even started to gather.

Finally after greasing the heavy bureaucratic cogs with a few bribes, the levees began to

show up outside of Delhi.

Only an enormous army of around 200,000, including camp followers, prepared and was ready to

meet the Afghans.

When the armies met, there's an interesting story that's likely exaggerated.

A diplomat of Armachad Durrani met the Mughal commander under the guise of negotiation.

Walking to the commander's tent, he counted the steps from the Durrani court to the Mughal

camp and after a fruitless meeting that solved nothing, he returned to camp and once he got

there he went straight to the artillery commander and reported the number of steps he took.

The artillery commander then set the cannon to the exact trajectory of the commander's

tent, just in time for morning prayer and managed to kill the commander with a single


The story is likely untrue.

The army had only recently just got its hands on cannons and somehow they get like the Stephen Hawking equivalent of a bombardier, I don't think so.\

But the commander was killed somehow either before the battle or very early on, a huge

hit for the morale of the Mughal troops at the very start.

The main forces of the Mughals consisted of Rajput conscripts, not used to the hit-and-run

tactics that the Afghans used.

The fight initially went in favour of the Afghans because of this, but midway through

the Grand Mughal himself enters the fray.

With a core of elite troops and cannons they turn the tide back on the Afghans.

As the pressure begins to ratchet up, a cart full of artillery catches alight and just

creates this huge explosion killing over a thousand men.

As the powder began to sizzle afterwards it made an eerie kind of a sssss sound, which

many Afghan tribes associated with evil spirits, which spooked whoever was left into breaking

rank and routing.

The battle was lost, but the Pearl of Pearls managed to take control of the retreat.

Casualties were low and most of the treasury was held onto.

As if the loss wasn't demoralising enough, the army were harassed by marauding Sikh bands

on their way home.

The Sikhs play a big part in this story, so I'll give a quick introduction.

The Sikhs are a religious order originating in the Punjab region of India in the 15th


The militarism of the Sikhs started, ironically, after the Mughals began to crack down hard

on the Sikh religion.

The persecution transformed a nominally peaceful sect of Hinduism into a band of hardened warriors

whose militancy became literally written into their religious practices.

I mean, today many of these guys even still carry around a small dagger.

The Sikh code and dogma was centred around always being ready for combat and is extremely

interesting and quite unique as far as religions go.

But summarise, despite their fairly small population, these guys were lethal if you

tangled with them.

While Ahmad Shah and his demoralised troops marched home, he got the news that his nephew,

serving as governor in a key township, had declared himself independent and started a


While the rebel troops had heard that the Durrani army was still largely intact and

returning home, the rebellion quickly fell apart.

His nephew was sent to prison and later quietly killed.

While an event like this is seemingly not important, it demonstrates the fragile hold

that Ahmad Shah Durrani had over the Afghan people.

A constant stream of loot and a close physical proximity were vital to maintain loyalty.

But first, a quick message from one of our friends of the show.

Hey everyone, this is KarthagoNova and I host a series of podcasts called, Understanding


In this podcast, we celebrate mankind's oldest and most treasured stories, but also

dig deep into comparative mythology.

We talk biology, anthropology, history and more to decipher their laden metaphors.

By understanding mythology, we can learn more about ourselves and the world around us.

Hope to see you there.

The new Mughal emperor, Mirza, had little experience in governing or in warfare.

While appearing ostentatious and decisive in public, behind closed doors he was meek

and easy to manipulate, putty in the hands of his venomous courtiers.

While he technically ruled the empire, real power lay in the hands of his advisors who

actually called the shots, and the governor of Delhi was at the top of the pile.

Wily, scheming and shrewd, he kept everything running and kept the emperor on a need-to-know


The governor of Lahore reached out urgently to the Grand Mughal for assistance and defense,

who in turn instructed the governor of Delhi to provide troops.

But he didn't.

The governor of Delhi didn't care much for the governor of Lahore, a man called Moinulmulk.

Apparently he held a grudge against him for something he did.

If the Mughal empire lost a core province, it was a small price to pay to see his rival


The timidity of the Mughal emperor in standing up to his own governor was indicative of the

failing Mughal estate.

For the disobedient governor there were virtually no consequences.

In the grand old days of the Mughal house, a hundred or so years back, this man would

be executed in the most grisly ways, but now, nothing.

If this was the way his own subjects treated the Grand Mughal, why should his enemies fear


But unlike the Grand Mughal, the governor of Lahore, Moinulmulk, was a man of impressive


After surrendering the city, he boldly marched to Ahmad Shah Durrani's grand tent.

An exchange between them started with Ahmad Shah questioning Moinulmulk, quote,

""What would you do if I had fallen into your hands?"

Moinulmulk responded with, ""I would have had your head cut off and sent it to my emperor.""

Amused, Ahmad quipped back, ""Well, now that I have you in my hands, what should I do?"

To which the governor responded with, ""If you're a merchant, ransom me.

If you're a just and merciful king, grant me your pardon.""

This bluntness greatly impressed Ahmad, who did indeed pardon him.

Moinulmulk had been hung out to dry by the Grand Mughal, and when Ahmad Shah offered

him his old position if he switched sides, he gladly agreed.

The two men got chatting and Moinulmulk convinced him to postpone an invasion of Delhi, the

capital, and Ahmad agreed on the basis that the Grand Mughal ratified a treaty with him.

Eager for a speedy end to hostilities and probably breathing a sigh of relief that his

capital was to be spared, the Mughal emperor agreed to cede all territory west of the Indus

River to the Afghans.

Ahmad Shah Durrani was no longer just an occupier.

The conquered territory was now formally acknowledged as his domain.

After stomping out an assassination attempt back at his capital, the Pearl of Pearls looked

for his next campaign.

To the west, Nader Shah's empire was facing the usual turmoil that follows the death of

a ruler.

It was now governed by the Shah's grandson, a man called Shahrokh.

Shahrokh was the third successor since Nader Shah's death.

The previous rulers had been murdered in quick succession, barely lasting a year.

Ahmad knew that this was the time to strike before the dust had settled.

A glaring insult to the Durrani unified state was the fortress of Herat, the main city built

on the original homeland of the Abdali tribe.

How could the Durrani empire be complete if their place of origin was in the hands of

a foreign invader?

With rebellion in his tribal council stamped out, the time was ripe to complete the unification

of Afghanistan.

The siege itself was long and bloody, the defenders holding up for over nine months

with heavy casualties on both sides.

Drawing upon religious fervor of his troops, Ahmad Shah Durrani instructed all his men

to recite a line from the Quran over and over without ceasing while assaulting the fortress

until it was taken.

This had a dual effect of whipping up his own troops and spooking the enemy defenders

making his army seem like fearless zealot robots.

After the relentless assault, the exhausted defenders were assailed at nightfall and the

city fell.

The Durrani homeland had been added to its domain and for the first time, the lands that

we now call Afghanistan were consulted by a single monarch.

We've got a map of this on our website where you can see that the borders actually don't

differ too much to the modern state of Afghanistan.

To the east lay a region called Khorasan.

With enemies on all sides, Nader Shah's empire had quickly been eaten away piece by


Khorasan was now all that remained, with Shahrokh now holding only a single major city, Nishapur,

which you guessed it, was the next destination for the Durrani war machine.

Nishapur was well defended and Ahmed Shah was not as skilled in diplomacy as the Wylie


The governor of the city and his nephew pretended to play each other off to the Shah through

correspondence, both promising to turn on the other when the time was right.

Ahmed was thinking he had them exactly where he wanted while in reality they were playing

him, buying time until the winter rolled around, banking that the Afghan troops would not be

used to the frigid temperatures.

They were alright.

The winter was bitterly cold.

One account has 18,000 men dying in a single night from the freezing winter, which seems

hyper-inflated but there's also stories from a commander who describes how in a single

night he killed 18 camels, sleeping inside of the poor beast's internal organs for

warmth and moving on to a new one once it became cold.

If we assume 8 hours of sleep, that's more than one camel every half hour.

After a final failed assault, the siege was called off.

A humiliating rout followed as the freezing Afghans were forced chaoticly back home, leaving

behind stacks of precious artillery and supplies.

The defeat was the lowest point of Ahmad Shah Durrani's rule yet.

Well aware that the army's loyalty was based predominantly on loot, he quickly salvaged

the situation by turning to the punching bag that was the Mughal Empire.

A few governors on the border had been holding out tribute to him.

Intimidation proved easy and an influx of cash quelled rebellion in his ranks.

With the wobbly morale of his troops now a bit more stable, back to Nishapur they went,

picking up new recruits as usual.

Luck was on his side this time though, the city was significantly less prepared than

last time due to a bad harvest season for crops.

The Afghans were the opposite.

Ahmad Shah Durrani was not about to be humiliated again, with winter now over he bought with

him ample supplies, food and ammo.

Attempts at idle diplomacy were also not going to work with him this time, the siege began


An enormous cannon was constructed which obliterated several houses with a single opening shot.

Fearful of the devastating power of the Afghan army, the city quickly began talks of surrender

rather than face a second volley.

It was a good thing too because there would be no second volley, the cannon had exploded

after its first shot due to the inexperience of the engineer or the caster.

You can imagine this probably wasn't brought up in negotiation.

The conditions of surrender were blunt and simple.

Everyone was free to leave the city, but they could carry nothing but the clothes on their


Ahmad Shah gave the order that even if a single pin was found being smuggled, the person would

be killed on the spot.

Once the citizens had left, their home was reduced effectively to rubble.

When it was discovered that the citizens had buried family treasures or hid them in walls,

the troops began to break apart even the framework of houses or pry up portions of the street

to look underneath.

With the capital sacked and the countryside suffering the same, Shahrokh sued for peace.

With virtually no bargaining chips, his options were looking like exile at best or mutilation

or death at worst.

The promise Ahmad Shah Durrani had made to old Nader Shah echoed in his mind.

Now here he was with his grandson, it seemed almost fated.

At the negotiation table, Ahmad treated Shahrokh respectfully, addressing him as an equal rather

than a defeated emir.

The treaty was incredibly lenient.

Shahrokh could continue to govern the province but would acknowledge Ahmad Shah Durrani as

his sovereign, effectively serving him as a vassal.

Shahrokh could probably not believe his luck and gladly accepted.

It is an interesting note that this is the second time in his life that he would be pardoned

due to the respect for his grandfather.

The first instance was a few years earlier when a victorious general allowed him to retain

the province of Khorasan purely because of his lineage.

Nader Shah must have been one hell of a guy before his paranoia set in.

These acts of clemency were not lost on the Afghan rank-and-file soldier.

It shouldn't be underestimated how fast stories like this carry, even when plunder

and loot is the main order of the day.

We kind of get this picture of the Pearl of Pearls being a wise and just ruler, someone

who was approachable and cheerful and above all pious.

I haven't detailed much of this above but if there was a local saint or dervish in an

area he was passing through, Ahmed Shah would almost always sideline his original plans

to meet the man.

He seemed intensely interested in the ideas of these holy men, whether they were concerning

this life or the next.

This behavior was very similar to that of Nader Shah in his early days and it's interesting

to wonder if maybe more than just battle tactics rubbed off on the Pearl of Pearls.

However it happened, these little decoys helped create a kind of cult of personality that

spread through the lower rungs of Afghan society.

With this latest conquest, Ahmed Shah Durrani wisely decided his empire had reached its


He had well and truly carved out a home for his Afghan people, it was now time to sort

out the affairs of governance.

A couple of half-cooked Mughal plots to stir up trouble were dealt with swiftly, and governors

who would remain loyal to the state during its lowest points were rewarded, while ones

whose loyalty were a bit more fickle were cautioned or replaced entirely.

This required a bit more tact than you might think.

The mountainous nature of countries like Afghanistan meant that individual settlements were a lot

more self-sufficient.

They don't expect or rely on the state to provide them much, and because of this they're

more prickly about any perceived threats to their autonomy.

Ahmed Shah walked a fine line between enforcing his authority but also not being labeled as

a tyrant.

With things starting to stabilize, he sent envoys over to the Mughal court to manage

the relationships and to keep an eye out for any new plots, he had won his territory but

now he had to ensure it stayed won, a stable administration was essential.

Meanwhile over in Lahore, Maunu Mulk had proved to be a loyal and very capable governor, and

Lahore was not an easy region to govern, and was bordering two empires which meant many

governors and even citizens had loyalty to different sides.

Complicating things further were the Sikhs.

Recognizing the authority of neither Mughal or Afghan, they constantly agitated for independence

and raided outlying settlements over and over.

When Maunu Mulk died in a rioting accident, the wheels really came off.

The situation quickly devolved with factionalism rearing its ugly head as officials begged

assistance from their patrons, either Mughal or Afghan.

Predictably, the troops under Ahmed Shah Durrani arrived first and order was once again restored.

But this time the army did not return home.

With scores of loot-deprived men rearing to go, the road to Delhi was open, and without

the soothing counsel of Maunu Mulk, there was nothing holding them back.

The expedition was led by Ahmed Shah Durrani's commander-in-chief, Jahan Khan.

I've been unable to find virtually any info on this guy, but the seeming consensus was

that he was a gifted and feared commander, not afraid of using acts of barbarity to

cow submission.

I've got a picture of him looking particularly intimidating on our website.

The Mughal capital was in panic upon hearing that, unlike last time, the unwelcome guest

was not going home after retaking Lahore.

The Grand Mughal turned to his closest advisor for advice, which I imagine wasn't very forthcoming.

I say that because this advisor had already cut a deal with Ahmed Shah.

His possessions in Delhi were safe from the imminent sacking.

After a few failed attempts at bribery, flattery, and peace talks, the Grand Mughal realized

the Durranis were coming, ready or not.

Still unable to ready a force of their own, they turned to the Marathis for support, trying

to convince them of the dangers of a permanent establishment of an Afghan presence in their


The Marathis were a Hindu-majority ethnic group in the east of India, so they sent back

a token force to the defense of their quote-unquote emperor, but really they seemed to be content

to just wait and see what happened.

In the end, the paltry defense of the capital was organized by another courtier.

Sources tell of his horrendous cowardice and unwillingness to meet the Afghans in battle

under any circumstances.

To demonstrate just how poorly organized this was, I mean, this guy had cannons installed

on the walls.

Not a bad idea, right?

Well, yeah, except for he forgot to hire artillerymen to operate them, so they just sat there, unused.

Overseeing the downfall of his house and his empire, the Grand Mughal could do nothing else.

The gates of Delhi were opened while he and his entourage vacated the palace for Ahmad shah

Durrani's arrival.

The city was entered peacefully, and Ahmad shah Durrani kept a close watch on his troops,

aware that they were probably salivating over all the potential loot that could be found

in Delhi.

Ahmad shah met with the Grand Mughal and treated him with the respect and pomp reserved for

his position.

The two exchanged gifts and turbans.

From the very start of the negotiations, the Afghan made it clear that he did not want

to become the new Mughal emperor.

You can go ahead and hold on to that poison chalice yourself.

So the Grand Mughal was able to retain the throne, but it wasn't all sunshine and smiles.

A humongous payment was demanded by Ahmad shah Durrani.

First, the cowardly military courtier responsible for the defense of the city was shaken down

for cash.

Ahmad shah personally found the man revolting, a kind of slimy sycophantic coward.

After he had given all he said he had, he was beaten with sticks until he had given

all his gold, jewel, and precious possessions.

I don't think anyone Mughal or Afghan shed a tear over this guy.

The rest of the Mughal government got the same treatment and were relieved of almost

all their worldly possessions.

After that, the treasury was pried open, which was still not enough for the payment.

So the gap was levied from citizens in the form of a special tax.

This citizen levy snowballed into a general sacking as wealthy citizens' houses were

torn apart for plunder.

This orgy of violence was started by rumors, likely unfounded, that spoke of five and a

half foot tall golden candlesticks and bags full of diamonds and the like being hidden

away by the richest citizens of the capital.

Once the looting started, even the pearl of pearls couldn't stop it.

Even those who had paid the citizens' levy were not left alone.

Any sense of law and order disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Rape, extortions, and violence were the order of the day.

But it didn't stop there.

A Mughal princess was demanded for the wife of the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani, Prince Temur.

Coins would need to be minted in the name of Ahmad Shah, and the 100 most beautiful

women in the royal harem were carted off back to Afghanistan.

The Mughal state that once spanned almost the entire Indian subcontinent and more was

reduced to poverty and made a vassal of the Durranis.

If only Akbar the Great could see the sorry state of his once mighty empire.

And that is where we leave our story for this week, but I promise it's only just heating


Remember those Sikhs?

Well, they remember the Afghans, and like Anonymous, they do not forgive and they do

not forget.

Coming up in part two is one of the largest battles that took place in the 18th century,

a commander who misses a battle due to a wild wedding party, sprinkled in with cattle mutilations

and of course a maggot infested facial tumour.

So um, yeah, have your breakfast before tuning in I guess.

This is Anthology of Heroes and thanks again for listening.