Reza Shah (1878–1944)

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REZA SHAH (1878–1944)

Shah Reza Khan was the founder and first shah of the Pahlavi dynasty of Iran. The exact date of his birth is uncertain but has been fixed officially as 16 March 1878. He died in exile in South Africa on 26 July 1944.

Reza was born into a family of modest means in Alasht in Mazandaran, Iran, and joined the Russian-officered Iranian Cossack Brigade. In 1920 the British officer Major-General Sir Edmund Ironside organized the removal of the Russian officers and placed Reza Khan in command of the Iranian cossacks at Qazvin. From Qazvin, Reza Khan, in partnership with the pro-British journalist, Sayyed Ziya al-Din Tabataba˒i, launched a coup, taking control of Tehran on 21 February 1921.

After the coup, Reza Khan received the title of Sardar-e Sipah (army commander) and in May became Minister of War. In October 1923 he became Prime Minister. He organized the deposition of the reigning monarch, Ahmad Shah Qajar, and ascended the throne in April 1926.

Immediately after the coup, Reza Khan began the task of constructing a modern army and, using this army, he then proceeded to suppress the autonomy of the tribes and the regional magnates, later he adopted a policy of enforced sedentarization of the nomadic tribes. In the late 1920s, a number of radical, centralizing reforms were introduced, including the secularization of the judicial system, as well as a series of etatiste economic measures. In 1935, following a visit to Ataturk's Turkey, he banned female veiling.

The regime that was headed by the semiliterate Reza Shah became increasingly authoritarian and finally dictatorial. His brutality, which included the murder of many of his closest supporters, and his mania for land acquisition, through which he had become the largest landowner in the country, made his regime increasingly unpopular. He was unable to preserve his country's independence after the outbreak of the Second World War, and on 25 August 1941 British and Soviet armies invaded Iran. On 16 September he was obliged to abdicate in order to secure the succession for his son. Reza Shah went into exile in South Africa.

See alsoModernization, Political: Authoritarianism and Democratization.


Cronin, Stephanie. The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 1997.

Stephanie Cronin