Ahmad Shah Durrani Biography

(1st Emir of the Durrani Empire from 1747 to 1772)

Born: 1722

Born In: Herat, Afghanistan

Aḥmad Shah Durrani, also known as Aḥmad Shah Abdali, was the 1st Emir of the Durrani Empire from 1747 to 1772. He united the Afghan tribes and laid the foundation of modern-day Afghanistan. His vast empire stretched from the Amu Darya to the Indian Ocean and from Khorasan to Kashmir and Punjab. While he initially led the forces of Persian ruler Nadir Shah, following his death, he continued Shah’s legacy of plunder and expansion. One of his best-known campaigns was the one against the Marathas, in the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. He invested in the military and made efforts to spread Islam. Apart from being an able leader and fighter, he was a skilled poet, too, and mostly wrote in Pashtun, his native language. His final years were marred by frequent rebellions and face cancer. He eventually succumbed to cancer around the age of 50.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Ahmad Khān Abdālī

Died At Age: 50


Spouse/Ex-: Hazrat Begum (m. 1757–1772), Iffat-un-Nissa Begum, Mimtta

father: Mohammad Zaman Khan Abdali

mother: Zarghona Anaa

siblings: Zulfiqar

children: Timur Shah Durrani

Born Country: Afghanistan

Emperors & Kings Afghan Men

Died on: June 4, 1772

place of death: Maruf, Afghanistan

Diseases & Disabilities: Cancer

Childhood & Early Years

Aḥmad Shah Durrani was born Ahmad Shah Abdali, to Moḥammad Zaman Khan, a chief of the Afghan tribal community of Abdali (or Durrani), and Zarghuna Alakozai, probably between 1720 and 1722. He was the second son of his parents and a descendant of the noble Sadōzai Pashtun clan.

While some sources mention his birthplace as Herat, Afghanistan, others believe he was born in Multan (modern-day Pakistan). It is believed, Durrani’s father was in Persian captivity before he was released in 1715. Following his release, he traveled to Western India and met his relatives in Multan. However, since his father was also the governor of Herat, most scholars later believed he was indeed born in Herat.

Durrani’s brother, Zulfiqar, was the governor of Mazandaran, Iran. Some sources mention that Durrani probably had a sister, who was eventually given up to Haji Ismail Khan, the new governor of Herat, by his mother, after his father died.

There is not much information available about Durrani’s childhood, but it is said that following the death of his father, he was primarily raised by his mother and his maternal uncles.

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Rise to Power

After the death of his father, Durrani was sent away to Sabzawar in Herat province by Haji Ismail Khan, the new governor of Herat. Not much is known about Durrani till 1732, when he and his older brother were arrested by Mir Husain, the ruler of Kandahar, as he nursed a hatred against the Abdali community.

In 1738, Persian ruler Nadir Shah captured Kandahar. Following this, Durrani and his brother were released from prison.

Nadir Shah took a liking to Durrani as soon as he met him, and Durrani began working as a cavalry general under Shah, soon after. In fact, both Durrani and his brother had joined Shah’s forces by 1740 and had become dependable members of his army.

Durrani was made part of Shah’s personal staff. He then worked as his treasury officer, and later as his “orderly” officer. Nadir Shah soon raided Delhi, seized the Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Around the same time, Nadir Shah, impressed by Durrani’s leadership abilities, often spoke of him as his probable successor.

Nadir Shah, who was known for his eccentricity, was murdered by his own guards in sleep, in June 1747. The Abdali brothers, apparently, could not save Shah. Instead, Durrani was told that Shah was murdered by one of his wives.

The Abdalis and their forces, led by Durrani, rushed to check what had happened. Upon reaching Nadir Shah's tent, they saw his lifeless body and severed head. The Abdalis, dejected for failing to save Shah, retreated to Kandahar. However, before that, Durrani had removed Shah’s royal seal and the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Soon, a meeting of tribal elders was held to decide upon the next ruler. Durrani was unanimously chosen because of his close association with Nadir Shah and his leadership skills.

Thus, in 1747, Durrani, who was around 25 at that time, was declared the sovereign ruler of Afghanistan, or the king of the Afghan tribes. The crowning ceremony was held at a mosque in the empire’s capital, Kandahar. Durrani soon adopted the nickname Durr-i-Durrān, or the Pearl of Pearls, a title given to him by Nadir Shah. Durrani also wore a pearl earring in his ear, to symbolize his title.

As the Ruler of the Last Afghan Empire

Durrani is largely remembered as the founder of modern Afghanistan. His empire extended to areas such as eastern Persia, northern India, and the Amu Darya. Durrani gave back the Abdali community, later known as the Durranis, their land, thus earning their support. He greatly helped in spreading Afghan culture and ideas. He also made efforts to gain the support of tribal chiefs, as his land was largely made of tribal communities.

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From 1747 to 1748, he seized Ghazni from the Ghilzais. He marched all the way to Kabul and to Peshawar. By 1749, Durrani’s forces had conquered Punjab, Sindh, and Kashmir.

In 1756, he plundered Delhi, Sirhind, and Mathura. By 1757, Durrani had captured the whole of modern-day Afghanistan. With Nadir Shah’s death, many neighboring areas had collapsed. This made Durrani’s job of extending his empire easier.

The Third Battle of Panipat was among Durrani’s best-known military achievements. In 1759, Durrani and his forces decided to confront the Marathas to regain a number of lost territories. By 1760, the Marathas had gathered and formed a strong army under the leadership of Sadashivrao Bhau. In January 1761, the Marathas and the Afghans clashed in the Third Battle of Panipat, which ended with Durrani’s victory.

Durrani was an efficient leader who was respected by his subjects. He successfully united the Afghan tribes and brought about peace in his land, thus laying the foundation of what is now known as Afghanistan.

Throughout his life, Durrani had invaded India eight times and had defeated the Mughals, the Rajputs, the Marathas, the Sikhs, and the Jats. He is also remembered for his efforts to spread Islam. He created a Council of Elders, which included groups that had previously been against the Durrani monarchy, such as the Ghilzai and a few non-Pashtuns.

He also invested heavily in the army and established a military school which included non-Pashtuns. He launched the first Afghan postal service.

However, his empire began to fall apart with a marked rebellion of the Sikhs in Punjab. While Durrani managed to subdue them initially, they rebelled with renewed force later.

Following a couple of years of handling revolts, in the early 1760s, he eventually lost control over the Sikhs. He spent the last decade of his life in Kabul, battling rebellions and struggling with cancer.

Personal Life & Death

Durrani was initially married to Mimtta and Nader Shah’s widow, Iffat-un-Nissa Begum. He married Hazrat Begum, his third wife and the daughter of Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah, in 1757. He had fathered four sons, Suleiman Mirza, Timur Shah, Sikandar, and Parwez.

By the early 1770s, Durrani was suffering from a severe form of face cancer. It is believed that he also wore a false nose made of silver, as cancer had permanently disfigured his face. On June 4, 1772, Durrani succumbed to cancer in Murghah, Herat Province, while some believed he died in Maruf, Kandahar Province.

He was around 50 years old at the time of his death. He remains buried in Kandahar. Following his death, his son from Mimtta, Timur Shah, took over as the new ruler.

Durrani was a talented poet too and mostly wrote in Pashto and sometimes in Persian. Most of his poetry reflected themes of patriotism and nationalism.

See the events in life of Ahmad Shah Durrani in Chronological Order

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