Legitimacy and Succession in Iranian History

Document Type : Original Article


University of Oxford


Government in Iran was arbitrary from ancient times. The ruler and the officials appointed by him were not, each according to his station, bound by any body of established rules and traditions, except the expediencies which were necessary to maintain them in power and authority, that is, to prevent their decline and demise. Thus, in principle, rulers and officials were not answerable for their actions except to the authorities above themselves, or - in the case of the ruler himself - to God, from whom he was believed to have received his dominion over the entire society. Absence of established rules and procedures for determining legitimacy and succession, and non-existence of aristocratic and other ruling classes which acted as the state’s social base, were the chief causes of the insecurity of the position and the lives of rulers, princes of the blood, chief ministers, and other high officials, since the latter’s successful coups or rebellions would have been sufficient for the ruler to lose his power and be replaced by the leader of the coup or rebellion.