Iran’s reunification in the late eighteenth century under the Qajar tribe came in the aftermath of nearly a century of warfare and territorial disunity. By all accounts, this period was also one of depopulation and economic contraction. It took Aqa Muhammad Khan Qajar 16 years of intense warfare to defeat his rivals and reunify Iran. By the time of his coronation in 1796, the new shah’s unification of Iran had restored the guarded domain of Iran (mamlek-e mahruseh Iran) to approximately the dominion of the fallen Safavid Empire in 1722. The unification of Iran under the Qajars and Iran’s entry into the nineteenth century had a number of distinct characteristics which may be summarized as follows: first, unification occurred at a time when Iran was just about to come out of a difficult century by restoring its territorial unity and central authority; second, it happened at a time when the Qajar dynasty was just about to redefine, legitimize, and transform itself from a tribal to a dynastic/royal identity; and third, Qajar unification occurred at a time when Iran was about to be engulfed in an aggressive colonial onslaught that included international intrigue and diplomacy. Among the colonial powers arriving at Iran’s doorstep, Russia stood out as the most territorially aggressive, Iran’s closest European neighbour, and the one with which Iranians had had the most interaction during the 1700s. Unlike Iran, Russia in the eighteenth century had gone through significant military, administrative, educational, and, to some extent, economic transformation. Between the reigns of Peter I (d. 1725) and Catherine II (d. 1796), Russia had become a gigantic land empire with a powerful military that had defeated all its traditional rivals, namely Sweden, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the eighteenth century, Russia had gained some 500,000 square miles (1,295,000 square kilometers) of territory and had a population of about 36,000,000 to 40,000,000 with an army some 500,000 strong.1 In this context, by the late eighteenth century the eastern Caucasus had become a focus of Russia’s imperial ambition, making it a major menace to the newly established Qajar state in terms of its hegemony over that region. This chapter examines Iranian perceptions of the Russian Empire in the wake of Iran’s unification under the Qajar shahs and as military conflict over control

of the eastern Caucasus became an unavoidable reality. The period under study roughly begins in the 1780s and ends in the 1820s and covers Russia under Tsarina Catherine II and Tsars Paul, Alexander I, and Nicholas I, and Iran during the reign of Aqa Muhammad Shah and Fath Ali Shah. Iran’s encounter with Russia was the Qajar state’s first interaction with an aggressive European power endangering the guarded domain. Studies of this period show that the Iranian and Russian elites each had a low view of the other, both before Qajar unification and through the early nineteenth century. These negative impressions centered on each viewing the other as uncivilized and backward, hence holding the other in contempt. However, as recent research suggests, the Qajar elite had developed a degree of respect for Peter I as a forceful and successful reformer.2