Safavid dynasty (/ˈsɑːfəvɪd/; Persian: دودمان
صفوی Dudmān e Safavi) was one of the most significant
ruling dynasties of Iran, often considered the beginning of modern
Iranian history. The Safavid shahs ruled over one of the Gunpowder
Empires. They ruled one of the greatest Iranian empires after the
7th-century Muslim conquest of Iran, and established
Twelver school of
Shia Islam as the official religion of the
empire, marking one of the most important turning points in Muslim
Safavid dynasty had its origin in the
Safaviyya Sufi order, which
was established in the city of
Ardabil in the
Azerbaijan region. It
was of mixed ancestry (Kurdish and Azerbaijani, which included
intermarriages with Georgian, Circassian, and Pontic
Greek dignitaries). From their base in Ardabil, the Safavids
established control over parts of Greater
Iran and reasserted the
Iranian identity of the region, thus becoming the first native
dynasty since the Sasanian
Empire to establish a unified Iranian
The Safavids ruled from 1501 to 1722 (experiencing a brief restoration
from 1729 to 1736) and, at their height, they controlled all of modern
Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Armenia, eastern Georgia, parts of the
North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of
Turkey, Syria, Pakistan,
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Despite their demise in 1736, the legacy that they left behind was the
Persia as an economic stronghold between East and West, the
establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy based upon "checks
and balances", their architectural innovations and their patronage for
fine arts. The Safavids have also left their mark down to the present
era by spreading
Shi'a Islam in Iran, as well as major parts of the
Caucasus, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia.
1 Genealogy—ancestors of the Safavids and its multi-cultural
2 Background—The Safavid Sufi Order
3.1 Founding of the dynasty by Shāh Ismāil I (r. 1501–24)
Persia prior to Ismāil's rule
3.1.2 Rise of Shāh Ismāil I
3.1.3 Start of clashes with the Ottomans
3.2 Shāh Tahmāsp (r. 1524–76)
3.2.1 Civil Strife during Tahmāsp's Early Reign
3.2.2 Foreign Threats to the Empire
3.2.3 Royal refugees: Bayezid and Humayun
3.2.4 Legacy of
3.3 Chaos under Tahmasp’s sons
Ismail II (r. 1576–77)
Mohammad Khodabanda (r. 1578–87)
Shah Abbas (r. 1588–1629)
3.4.1 Restoration of central authority
3.4.2 Recovery of territory from the
Uzbeks and the Ottomans
3.4.3 Quelling the Georgian uprising
3.4.4 Suppressing the Kurdish rebellion
3.4.5 Contacts with Europe during Abbas's reign
3.4.6 Succession and legacy of Abbas I
3.5 Decline of the Safavid state
Shia Islam as the state religion
5 Military and the role of Qizilbash
5.1 Reforms in the military
6.1 The customs and culture of the people
6.1.3 Clothes and Appearances
6.2 Turks and Tajiks
6.3 The third force: Caucasians
6.4 Emergence of a clerical aristocracy
6.5 Akhbaris versus Usulis
7 State and government
7.1 The Government
7.2 The Royal Court
7.3 Local governments
7.4 Democratic institutions in a totalitarian society
8 Legal system
9.2 Travel and Caravanserais
9.3 Foreign trade and the Silk Route
9.4 The Armenian merchants and the trade of silk
10.1 Culture within the Safavid family
10.2 Culture within the empire
Isfahan School—Islamic philosophy revived
12 The languages of the court, military, administration and culture
14 Safavid Shahs of Iran
15 See also
16 References and notes
18 Further reading
19 External links
Genealogy—ancestors of the Safavids and its multi-cultural identity
Safavid dynasty family tree, Safaviyya, Safvat as-safa,
Silsilat-al-nasab-i Safaviya, Firuz
Shah Zarin-Kolah, and List of the
mothers of the Safavid Shahs
The Safavid Kings themselves claimed to be Seyyeds, family
descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, although many scholars
have cast doubt on this claim. There seems now to be a consensus
among scholars that the Safavid family hailed from Persian
Kurdistan, and later moved to Azerbaijan, finally settling in the
11th century CE at Ardabil. Traditional pre-1501 Safavid manuscripts
trace the lineage of the Safavids to the Kurdish dignitary, Firuz Shah
According to some historians, including Richard Frye, the
Safavids were of Turkicized Iranian origin:
The Turkish speakers of
Azerbaijan are mainly descended from the
earlier Iranian speakers, several pockets of whom still exist in the
region. A massive migration of
Oghuz Turks in the 11th and 12th
centuries not only Turkified
Azerbaijan but also Anatolia. The Azeri
Turks are Shiʿites and were founders of the Safavid dynasty.
Other historians, such as Vladimir Minorsky and Roger Savory,
support this idea:
From the evidence available at the present time, it is certain that
the Safavid family was of indigenous Iranian stock, and not of Turkish
ancestry as it is sometimes claimed. It is probable that the family
originated in Persian Kurdistan, and later moved to Azerbaijan, where
they adopted the Azari form of Turkish spoken there, and eventually
settled in the small town of
Ardabil sometimes during the eleventh
By the time of the establishment of the Safavid empire, the members of
the family were native Turkish-speaking and Turkicized, and
some of the Shahs composed poems in their native Turkish language.
Concurrently, the Shahs themselves also supported Persian literature,
poetry and art projects including the grand
Shahnameh of Shah
Tahmasp, while members of the family and some Shahs composed
Persian poetry as well. The authority of the Safavids was
religiously based, and their claim to legitimacy was founded on being
direct male descendants of the Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of
Muhammad, and regarded by Shi'ites as the first Imam.
Furthermore, the dynasty was from the very start thoroughly
intermarried with both
Pontic Greek as well as Georgian lines. In
addition, from the official establishment of the dynasty in 1501, the
dynasty would continue to have many intermarriages with both
Circassian as well as again Georgian dignitaries, especially with the
advent of king Tahmasp I.
Background—The Safavid Sufi Order
Main articles: Safaviyya, Safi al-Din Ardabili, and Ideology of
Safavid history begins with the establishment of the
Safaviyya by its
Safi-ad-din Ardabili (1252–1334). In 700/1301,
Safi al-Din assumed the leadership of the Zahediyeh, a significant
Sufi order in Gilan, from his spiritual master and father-in-law Zahed
Gilani. Due to the great spiritual charisma of Safi al-Din, the order
was later known as the Safaviyya. The Safavid order soon gained great
influence in the city of Ardabil, and Hamdullah Mustaufi noted that
most of the people of
Ardabil were followers of Safi al-Din.
Religious poetry from Safi al-Din, written in the Old Azari
language—a now-extinct Northwestern Iranian language—and
accompanied by a paraphrase in Persian that helps its understanding,
has survived to this day and has linguistic importance.
After Safī al-Dīn, the leadership of the
Safaviyya passed to Sadr
al-Dīn Mūsā († 794/1391–92). The order at this time was
transformed into a religious movement that conducted religious
propaganda throughout Persia,
Syria and Asia Minor, and most likely
had maintained its
Sunni Shafi’ite origin at that time. The
leadership of the order passed from Sadr ud-Dīn Mūsā to his son
Khwādja Ali († 1429) and in turn to his son Ibrāhīm (†
Mannequin of a Safavid
Qizilbash soldier, showing characteristic red
cap (Sa'dabad Palace, Teheran)
When Shaykh Junayd, the son of Ibrāhim, assumed the leadership of the
Safaviyya in 1447, the history of the Safavid movement was radically
changed. According to R.M. Savory, "'Sheikh Junayd was not content
with spiritual authority and he sought material power'". At that time,
the most powerful dynasty in
Persia was that of the Kara Koyunlu, the
"Black Sheep", whose ruler Jahan
Shah ordered Junāyd to leave Ardabil
or else he would bring destruction and ruin upon the city. Junayd
sought refuge with the rival of
Kara Koyunlu Jahan Shah, the Aq
Qoyunlu (White Sheep Turkomans) Khan Uzun Hassan, and cemented his
relationship by marrying Uzun Hassan's sister, Khadija Begum. Junayd
was killed during an incursion into the territories of the Shirvanshah
and was succeeded by his son Haydar Safavi.
Haydar married Martha 'Alamshah Begom, Uzun Hassan's daughter, who
gave birth to Ismail I, founder of the Safavid dynasty. Martha's
mother Theodora—better known as Despina Khatun—was a Pontic
Greek princess, the daughter of the Grand
Komnenos John IV of
Trebizond. She had been married to Uzun Hassan in exchange for
protection of the Grand
Komnenos from the Ottomans.
After Uzun Hassan's death, his son Ya'qub felt threatened by the
growing Safavid religious influence. Ya'qub allied himself with the
Shirvanshah and killed Haydar in 1488. By this time, the bulk of the
Safaviyya were nomadic Oghuz Turkic-speaking clans from
Asia Minor and
Azerbaijan and were known as
Qizilbash "Red Heads" because of their
distinct red headgear. The
Qizilbash were warriors, spiritual
followers of Haydar, and a source of the Safavid military and
After the death of Haydar, the
Safaviyya gathered around his son Ali
Mirza Safavi, who was also pursued and subsequently killed by Ya'qub.
According to official Safavid history, before passing away, Ali had
designated his young brother Ismail as the spiritual leader of the
Founding of the dynasty by Shāh Ismāil I (r. 1501–24)
Main article: Ismail I
Ismail declares himself "Shah" by entering Tabriz; his troops in front
of Arg of Tabriz, painter Chingiz Mehbaliyev, in private collection.
Persia prior to Ismāil's rule
After the decline of the Timurid
politically splintered, giving rise to a number of religious
movements. The demise of Tamerlane's political authority created a
space in which several religious communities, particularly Shi’i
ones, could come to the fore and gain prominence. Among these were a
number of Sufi brotherhoods, the Hurufis, Nuqtawis and Musha‘sha‘.
Of these various movements, the Safavid
Qizilbash was the most
politically resilient, and due to its success
Shah Isma’il I gained
political prominence in 1501. There were many local states prior
to the Iranian state established by Ismāil. The most important
local rulers about 1500 were:
Huṣayn Bāyqarā, the Timurid ruler of Herāt
Alwand Mīrzā, the
Aq Qoyunlu Khan of Tabrīz
Aq Qoyunlu ruler of Irāq al-Ajam
Farrokh Yaṣar, the
Shah of Širvan
Badi Alzamān Mīrzā, local ruler of Balkh
Huṣayn Kīā Chalavī, the local ruler of Semnān
Murād Beg Bayandar, local ruler of Yazd
Sultan Mahmud ibn Nizam al-Din Yahya, ruler of Sistan
Several local rulers of
Mazandaran and Gilan such as: Bisotun II,
Ashraf ibn Taj al-Dawla, Mirza Ali, and Kiya Husayn II.
Ismāil was able to unite all these lands under the Iranian
Rise of Shāh Ismāil I
Shah Ismail I
Ismail's battle with Uzbek warlord
Muhammad Shaybani Khan in 1510, on
a folio from the Kebir Musaver Silsilname. After the battle Ismail
purportedly gilded the skull of Shaybani Khan for use as a wine
Safavid dynasty was founded about 1501 by Shāh Ismāil I. His
background is disputed: the language he used is not identical with
that of his "race" or "nationality" and he was bilingual from
birth. Ismāil was of mixed Azeri, Kurdish, and Pontic Greek
descent, although others argue that he had no Azeri ancestry and
was a direct descendant of Kurdish mystic Sheikh Safi al-Din. As such,
he was the last in the line of hereditary Grand Masters of the
Safaviyeh order, prior to its ascent to a ruling dynasty. Ismāil was
known as a brave and charismatic youth, zealous with regards to his
Shi’a faith, and believed himself to be of divine
descent—practically worshipped by his
In 1500, Ismāil invaded neighboring
Shirvan to avenge the death of
his father, Sheik Haydar, who had been murdered in 1488 by the ruling
Shirvanshah, Farrukh Yassar. Afterwards, Ismail went on a conquest
Tabriz in July 1501, where he enthroned himself
the Shāh of Azerbaijan, proclaimed himself Shahanshah of
Iran and minted coins in his name, proclaiming Shi’ism
the official religion of his domain. The establishment of
Shi’ism as the state religion led to various Sufi orders openly
declaring their Shi’i position, and others to promptly assume
Shi’ism. Among these, the founder of one of the most successful Sufi
orders, Ni’matullah (d. 1431), traced his descent from the Ismaili
Muhammad b. Ismail, as evidenced in a poem as well as another
unpublished literary composition. Though Nimatullah was apparently
Sunni, the Ni’matullahi order soon declared his order to be Shi’i
after the rise of the Safavid dynasty.
Ismail I initially gained mastery over
Azerbaijan alone, the
Safavids ultimately won the struggle for power over all of Persia,
which had been going on for nearly a century between various dynasties
and political forces. A year after his victory in Tabriz, Ismāil
claimed most of
Persia as part of his territory, and within 10
years established a complete control over all of it. Ismail followed
the line of Iranian and Turkmen rulers prior to his assumption of the
title "Padishah-i-Iran", previously held by Uzun Hasan and many other
Iranian kings. The Ottoman sultans addressed him as the king of
Persian lands and the heir to
Jamshid and Kai Khosrow.
Having started with just the possession of Azerbaijan, Shirvan,
Dagestan (with its important city of Derbent), and
Erzurum fell into his power in 1502,
Hamadan in 1503, Shiraz and
Kerman in 1504, Diyarbakir, Najaf, and
Karbala in 1507, Van in 1508,
Baghdad in 1509, and Herat, as well as
other parts of Khorasan, in 1510. In 1503, the kingdoms of
Kakheti were made his vassals as well. By 1511, the
Uzbeks in the
north-east, led by their Khan
Muhammad Shaybāni, were driven far to
the north, across the
Oxus River, where they continued to attack the
Safavids. Ismail's decisive victory over the Uzbeks, who had occupied
most of Khorasan, ensured Iran's eastern borders, and the
since expanded beyond the Hindukush. Although the
Uzbeks continued to
make occasional raids to Khorasan, the Safavid empire was able to keep
them at bay throughout its reign.
Start of clashes with the Ottomans
Battle of Chaldiran
Battle of Chaldiran and Qizilbash
Artwork of the Battle of Chaldiran.
More problematic for the Safavids was the powerful neighboring Ottoman
Empire. The Ottomans, a
Sunni dynasty, considered the active
recruitment of Turkmen tribes of
Anatolia for the Safavid cause as a
major threat. To counter the rising Safavid power, in 1502, Sultan
Bayezid II forcefully deported many Shi'as from
Anatolia to other
parts of the Ottoman realm. In 1511, there was a widespread pro-Shia
and pro-Safavid uprising directed against the Ottoman
within the empire. Furthermore, by the early 1510s Ismail's
expansionistic policies had pushed the Safavid borders in Asia Minor
even more westwards. The
Ottomans soon reacted with a large-scale
incursion into Eastern
Anatolia by Safavid ghazis under Nūr-ʿAlī
Ḵalīfa. This action coincided with the accession to the Ottoman
throne in 1512 of Sultan Selim I, Bayezid's son, and it was the casus
belli leading to Selim's decision to invade neighbouring Safavid Iran
two years later. In 1514, Sultan
Selim I marched through Anatolia
and reached the plain of Chaldiran near the city of Khoy, where a
decisive battle was fought. Most sources agree that the Ottoman army
was at least double the size of that of Ismāil; however, the
Ottomans had the advantage of artillery, which the Safavid army
lacked. According to R. M. Savory, "Salim's plan was to winter at
Tabriz and complete the conquest of
Persia the following spring.
However, a mutiny among his officers who refused to spend the winter
Tabriz forced him to withdraw across territory laid waste by the
Safavid forces, eight days later". Although Ismāil was defeated
and his capital was captured, the Safavid empire survived. The war
between the two powers continued under Ismāil's son, Shāh Tahmāsp
I, and the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I, until Shāh Abbās retook the
area lost to the
Ottomans by 1602.
Shāh Ismāil's empire
The consequences of the defeat at Chaldiran were also psychological
for Ismāil: the defeat destroyed Ismāil's belief in his
invincibility, based on his claimed divine status. His
relationships with his
Qizilbash followers were also fundamentally
altered. The tribal rivalries between the Qizilbash, which temporarily
ceased before the defeat at Chaldiran, resurfaced in intense form
immediately after the death of Ismāil, and led to ten years of civil
war (930-40/1524-33) until Shāh Tahmāsp regained control of the
affairs of the state. For most of the last decade of Ismail's reign,
the domestic affairs of the empire were overseen by the Tajik vizier
Shah Husayn Isfahani until his assassination in 1523. The
Chaldiran battle also holds historical significance as the start of
over 300 years of frequent and harsh warfare fuelled by geo-politics
and ideological differences between the
Ottomans and the Iranian
Safavids (as well as successive Iranian states) mainly regarding
territories in Eastern Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Mesopotamia.
Early Safavid power in
Iran was based on the military power of the
Qizilbash. Ismāil exploited the first element to seize power in Iran.
But eschewing politics after his defeat in Chaldiran, he left the
affairs of the government to the office of the wakīl (chief
administrator, vakīl in Turkish). Ismāil's successors, most
manifestly Shāh Abbās I, successfully diminished the influence of
Qizilbash on the affairs of the state.
Shāh Tahmāsp (r. 1524–76)
Civil Strife during Tahmāsp's Early Reign
Shah Tahmasp, fresco on the walls of the
Chehel Sotoun Palace
Shāh Tahmāsp, the young titular governor of Khorasan, succeeded
his father Ismāil in 1524, when he was ten years and three months
old. The succession was evidently undisputed. Tahmāsp was the
ward of the powerful
Qizilbash amir Ali Beg Rūmlū (titled "Div
Soltān Rumlu") who saw himself as the de facto ruler of the state.
Rūmlū and Kopek Sultān Ustajlu (who had been Ismail's last wakīl)
established themselves as co-regents of the young shah. The
Qizilbash, which still suffered under the legacy of the battle of
Chaldiran, was engulfed in internal rivalries. The first two years of
Tahmāsp's reign was consumed with Div Sultān’s efforts to
eliminate Ustajlu from power. This court intrigue lead directly to
tribal conflict. Beginning in 1526 periodic battles broke out,
beginning in northwest
Persia but soon involving all of Khorasan.
In the absence of a charismatic, messianic rallying figure like the
young Ismail, the tribal leaders reclaimed their traditional
prerogative and threatened to return to the time of local warlords.
For nearly 10 years rival
Qizilbash factions fought each other. Af
first, Kopek Sultān's Ustajlu tribe suffered the heaviest, and he
himself was killed in a battle.
Thus Div Soltān emerged victorious in the first palace struggle, bit
he fell victim to Chuha Sultān of the Takkalu, who turned Tahmāsp
against his first mentor. In 1527 Tahmāsp demonstrated his desire by
shooting an arrow at Div Soltān before the assembled court. The
Takkalu replaced the Rumlu as the dominant tribe. They in turn would
be replaced by the Shamlu, whose amir, Husain Khan, became the chief
adviser. This latest leader would only last until 1534, when he was
deposed and executed.
At the downfall of Husain Khan, Tahmāsp asserted his rule. Rather
than rely on another Turkmen tribe, he appointed a Persian wakīl.
From 1553 for forty years the shah was able to avoid being ensnared in
tribal treacheries. But the decade of civil war had exposed the empire
to foreign danger and Tahmāsp had to turn his attention to the
repeated raids by the Uzbeks.
Foreign Threats to the Empire
Ottoman-Safavid War (1532-1555)
Ottoman-Safavid War (1532-1555) and Peace of Amasya
The Uzbeks, during the reign of Tahmāsp, attacked the eastern
provinces of the kingdom five times, and the
Ottomans under Soleymān
Persia four times. Decentralized control over Uzbek
forces was largely responsible for the inability of the
Uzbeks to make
territorial inroads into Khorasan. Putting aside internal
dissension, the Safavid nobles responded to a threat to
Herat in 1528
by riding eastward with Tahmāsp (then 17) and soundly defeating the
numerically superior forces of the
Uzbeks at Jām. The victory
resulted at least in part from Safavid use of firearms, which they had
been acquiring and drilling with since Chaldiran.
Notwithstanding the success with firearms at Jām, Tahmāsp still
lacked the confidence to engage their archrivals the Ottomans,
choosing instead to cede territory, often using scorched earth tactics
in the process. The goal of the
Ottomans in the 1534 and 1548-1549
campaigns, during the 1532-1555 Ottoman-Safavid War, was to install
Tahmāsp's brothers (Sam Mirza and Alqas Mirza, respectively) as shah
in order to make
Persia a vassal state. Although in those campaigns
(and in 1554) the
Ottomans captured Tabriz, they lacked a
communications line sufficient to occupy it for long.
Nevertheless, given the insecurity in
Iraq and its northwest
territory, Tahmāsp moved his court from
Tabriz to Qazvin.
In the gravest crisis of Tahmāsp's reign, Ottoman forces in 1553-54
Karabakh and Nakhjuwan, destroyed palaces, villas
and gardens, and threatened Ardabil. During these operations an agent
of the Samlu (now supporting Sam Mizra's pretentions) attempted to
poison the shah. Tahmāsp resolved to end hostilities and sent his
ambassador to Soleymān's winter quarters in
Erzurum in September 1554
to sue for peace. Temporary terms were followed by the Peace of
Amasya in June 1555, ending the war with the
Ottomans for the next two
decades. The treaty was the first formal diplomatic recognition of the
Empire by the Ottomans. Under the Peace, the Ottomans
agreed to restore Yerevan,
Karabakh and Nakhjuwan to the Safavids and
in turn would retain
Mesopotamia (Iraq) and eastern Anatolia.
Soleymān agreed to permit Safavid
Shi’a pilgrims to make
pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina as well as tombs of imams in
Arabia on condition that the shah would abolish the taburru, the
cursing of the first three Rashidun caliphs. It was a heavy price
in terms of territory and prestige lost, but it allowed the empire to
last, something that seemed improbable during the first years of
Royal refugees: Bayezid and Humayun
Shah Tahmasp greets the exiled Humayun
Almost simultaneously with the emergence of the Safavid Empire, the
Mughal Empire, founded by the Timurid heir Babur, was developing in
South-Asia. The Mughals adhered (for the most part) to a tolerant
Sunni Islam while ruling a largely
Hindu population. After the death
of Babur, his son
Humayun was ousted from his territories and
threatened by his half-brother and rival, who had inherited the
northern part of Babur's territories. Having to flee from city to
Humayun eventually sought refuge at the court of Tahmāsp in
Qazvin in 1543. Tahmāsp received
Humayun as the true emperor of the
Mughal dynasty, despite the fact that
Humayun had been living in exile
for more than fifteen years. After
Humayun converted to Shia
Islam (under extreme duress), Tahmāsp offered him military
assistance to regain his territories in return for Kandahar, which
controlled the overland trade route between central
Persia and the
Ganges. In 1545 a combined Persian-Mughal force managed to seize
Kandahar and occupy Kabul.
Humayun handed over Kandahar, but
Tahmāsp was forced to retake it in 1558, after
Humayun seized it on
the death of the Safavid governor.
Humayun was not the only royal figure to seek refuge at Tahmasp's
court. A dispute arose in the Ottoman
Empire over who was to succeed
the aged Suleiman the Magnificent. Suleiman's favourite wife, Hürrem
Sultan, was eager for her son, Selim, to become the next sultan. But
Selim was an alcoholic and Hürrem's other son, Bayezid, had shown far
greater military ability. The two princes quarrelled and eventually
Bayezid rebelled against his father. His letter of remorse never
reached Suleiman, and he was forced to flee abroad to avoid execution.
In 1559 Bayezid arrived in
Iran where Tahmasp gave him a warm welcome.
Suleiman was eager to negotiate his son's return, but Tahmasp rejected
his promises and threats until, in 1561, Suleiman compromised with
him. In September of that year, Tahmasp and Bayezid were enjoying a
Tabriz when Tahmasp suddenly pretended he had received news
that the Ottoman prince was engaged in a plot against his life. An
angry mob gathered and Tahmasp had Bayezid put into custody, alleging
it was for his own safety. Tahmasp then handed the prince over to the
Ottoman ambassador. Shortly afterwards, Bayezid was killed by agents
sent by his own father.
When the young
Shah Tahmāsp took the throne,
Persia was in a dire
state. But in spite of a weak economy, a civil war and foreign wars on
two fronts, Tahmāsp managed to retain his crown and maintain the
territorial integrity of the empire (although much reduced from
Ismail's time). During the first 30 years of his long reign, he was
able to suppress the internal divisions by exerting control over a
strengthened central military force. In the war against the
showed that the Safavids had become a gunpowder empire. His tactics in
dealing with the Ottoman threat eventually allowed for a treaty which
preserved peace for twenty years.
In cultural matters, Tahmāsp presided the revival of the fine arts,
which flourished under his patronage. Safavid culture is often admired
for the large-scale city planning and architecture, achievements made
during the reign of later shahs, but the arts of persian miniature,
book-binding and calligraphy, in fact, never received as much
attention as they did during his time.
Tahmāsp also planted the seeds that would, unintentionally, produce
change much later. During his reign he had realized while both looking
to his own empire and that of the neighboring Ottomans, that there
were dangerous rivalling factions and internal family rivalries that
were a threat to the heads of state. Not taken care of accordingly,
these were a serious threat to the ruler, or worse, could bring the
fall of the former or could lead to unnecessary court intrigues.
According to Encyclopedia Iranica, for Tahmāsp, the problem circled
around the military tribal elite of the empire, the Qezelbāš, who
believed that physical proximity to and control of a member of the
immediate Safavid family guaranteed spiritual advantages, political
fortune, and material advancement. Despite that Tahmāsp could
nullify and neglect some of his consternations regarding potential
issues related to his family by having his close direct male relatives
such as his brothers and sons routinely transferred around to various
governorships in the empire, he understood and realized that any
long-term solutions would mainly involve minimizing the political and
military presence of the Qezelbāš as a whole. According to
Encyclopedia Iranica, his father and founder of the Empire, Ismail I,
had begun this process on a bureaucratic level as he appointed a
number of prominent Persians in powerful bureaucratic positions, and
one can see this continued in Tahmāsp’s lengthy and close
relationship with the chief vizier, Qāżi Jahān of Qazvin, after
1535. While Persians continued to fill their historical role as
administrators and clerical elites under Tahmāsp, little had been
done so far to minimize the military role of the Qezelbāš.
Therefore, in 1540,
Shah Tahmāsp started the first of a series of
invasions of the
Caucasus region, both meant as a training and
drilling for his soldiers, as well as mainly bringing back massive
numbers of Christian Circassian and Georgian slaves, who would form
the basis of a military slave system, alike to the janissaries of
the neighbouring Ottoman Empire, as well as at the same time
forming a new layer in Iranian society composed of ethnic Caucasians.
At the fourth invasion in 1553, it was now clear that Tahmāsp
followed a policy of annexation and resettlement as he gained control
Tbilisi (Tiflis) and the region of
Kartli while physically
transplanting more than 30,000 people to the central Iranian
heartlands. According to Encyclopedia Iranica, this would be the
starting point for the corps of the ḡolāmān-e ḵāṣṣa-ye-e
šarifa, or royal slaves, who would dominate the Safavid military for
most of the empire's length. As non-Turcoman converts to Islam, these
Circassian and Georgian ḡolāmāns (also written as ghulams) were
completely unrestrained by clan loyalties and kinship obligations,
which was an attractive feature for a ruler like Tahmāsp whose
childhood and upbringing had been deeply affected by Qezelbāš tribal
politics. In turn, many of these transplanted women became wives
and concubines of Tahmāsp, and the Safavid harem emerged as a
competitive, and sometimes lethal, arena of ethnic politics as cliques
of Turkmen, Circassian, and Georgian women and courtiers vied with
each other for the shah’s attention.
Although the first slave soldiers would not be organized until the
reign of Abbas I, during Tahmāsp's time Caucasians would already
become important members of the royal household,
Harem and in the
civil and military administration, and by that becoming their
way of eventually becoming an integral part of the society. One of
Tahmāsp's sisters married a Circassian, who would use his court
office to team up with Tahmāsp's daughter,
Pari Khān Khānum
Pari Khān Khānum to
assert themselves in succession matters after Tahmāsp's death.
After the Peace of Amasya, Tasmāsp underwent what he called a
"sincere repentance." Tasmāsp at the same time removed his son Ismail
Qizilbash followers and imprisoned him at Qahqaha. Moreover,
he began to strengthen Shia practice by such things as forbidding in
the new capital of
Qazvin poetry and music which did not esteem Ali
and the Twelve Imams. He also reduced the taxes of districts that were
traditionally Shia, regulated services in mosques and engaged Shia
propagandists and spies. Extortion, intimidation and harassment were
practiced against Sunnis.
When Tahmāsp died in 984/1576,
Persia was calm domestically, with
secure borders and no imminent threat from either the
Uzbeks or the
Ottomans. What remained unchanged, however, was the constant threat of
local disaffection with the weak central authority. That condition
would not change (and in fact it would worsen) until Tahmāsp's
grandson, Abbas I, assumed the throne.
Chaos under Tahmasp’s sons
On Tahmāsp’s death support for a successor coalesced around two of
his nine sons; the support divided on ethnic lines—Ismail was
supported by most of the Turkmen tribes as well as his sister Pari
Khān Khānum, her Circassian uncle
Shamkhal Sultan as well as the
rest of the Circassians, while Haydar was mostly supported by the
Georgians at court although he also had support from the Turkmen
Ustajlu. Ismail had been imprisoned at Qahqaha since 1556 by his
father on charges of plotting a coup, but his selection was ensured
Qizilbash supporters demonstrated outside the prison.
Shortly after the installation of
Ismail II on August 22, 1576, Haydar
Ismail II (r. 1576–77)
Main article: Ismail II
Ismail’s 14-month reign was notable for two things: continual
bloodletting of his relatives and others (including his own
supporters) and his reversal on religion. He had all his relatives
killed except for his older brother, Mohammad Khudabanda, who, being
nearly blind, was not a real candidate for the throne, and
Mohammad’s three sons, Hamza Mirza, Abbas Mirza and Abu Talib
Mirza. While the murderous actions of Ismail might be explained
by political prudence (Ottoman sultans occasionally purged the
bloodline to prevent succession rivals), his actions against
Shi’a suggest retaliation against his father, who saw himself as a
pious practitioner. Ismail sought to reintroduce
Sunni orthodoxy. But
even here there may have been practical political considerations;
namely, “concern about the excessively powerful position of Shi‘i
dignitaries, which would have been undermined by a reintroduction of
the Sunna.” His conduct might also be explained by his drug
use. In any event, he was ultimately killed (according to some
accounts) by his Circassian half-sister, Pari Khān Khānum, who
championed him over Haydar. She is said to have poisoned his
Mohammad Khodabanda (r. 1578–87)
Main article: Mohammad Khodabanda
"Jealousy among Rivals" attributed to Muhammadi. Miniature painting
contained in a Persian volume entitled Busta by Sa'di in 1579,
possibly under the patronage of Vizier Mirza Salman Jaberi. E.M.
Soudavar Trust, Houston, Texas.
On the death of
Ismail II there were three candidates for succession:
Shāh Shujā', the infant son of Ismail (only a few weeks old),
Ismail's brother, Mohammad Khodabanda; and Mohammad’s son, Sultan
Hamza Mirza, 11 years old at the time. Pari Khān Khānum, sister of
Ismail and Mohammad, hoped to act as regent for any of the three
(including her older brother, who was nearly blind). Mohammad was
selected and received the crown on February 11, 1579. Muhammad
would rule for 10 years, and his sister at first dominated the court,
but she fell in the first of many intrigues which continued even
Ottomans again used the opportunity to threaten
Mohammad allowed others to direct the affairs of state, but none of
them had either the prestige, skill or ruthlessness of either Tahmāsp
Ismail II to rein in the ethnic or palace factions, and each of his
rulers met grim ends. Mohammad's younger sister, who had a hand in
elevating and deposing
Ismail II and thus had considerable influence
among the Qizilbash, was the first. She did not last much longer than
Mohammad's installation at Qazvin, where she was murdered. She
was done in by intrigues by the vizier
Mirza Salman Jaberi
Mirza Salman Jaberi (who was a
holdover from Ismail II's reign) and Mohammad's chief wife Khayr
al-Nisa Begum, known as Mahd-i ‘Ulyā. There is some indication that
Mirza Salman was the chief conspirator.
Pari Khān Khānum
Pari Khān Khānum could
master strong support among the Qizilbash, and her uncle, Shamkhal
Sultan, was a prominent Circassian who held a high official
position. Mirza Salman left the capital before Pari Khān Khānum
closed the gates and was able to meet
Mohammad Khodabanda and his wife
in Shiraz, to whom he offered his services. He may have believed
that he would rule once their enemy was disposed of, but Mahd-i
‘Ulyā proved the stronger of the two.
She was by no means content to exercise a more or less indirect
influence on affairs of state: instead, she openly carried out all
essential functions herself, including the appointment of the chief
officers of the realm. In place of the usual royal audience, these
high dignitaries had to assemble each morning at the entrance to the
women’s apartments in order to receive the Begum’s orders. On
these occasions the royal edicts were drawn up and sealed.
The amirs demanded that she be removed, and Mahd-i Ulya was strangled
in the harem in July 1579 on the ground of an alleged affair with the
brother of the Crimean khan, Adil Giray, who was captured during
the 1578-1590 Ottoman war and held captive in the capital,
Qazvin. None of the perpetrators were brought to justice,
although the shah lectured the assembled amirs on how they departed
from the old ways when the shah was master to his Sufi disciples. The
shah used that occasion to proclaim the 11-year-old Sultan Hamza Mirza
(Mahd-i ‘Ulyā's favorite) crown-prince.
The palace intrigues reflected ethnic unrest which would soon erupt
into open warfare. Persia's neighbors improved upon the opportunity to
attack Persia. The
Uzbeks struck in the Spring of 1578 but were
repelled by Murtaza Quli Sultan, governor of Mashhad. More
Ottomans ended the
Peace of Amasya
Peace of Amasya and commenced a war
Persia that would last until 1590 by invading Iran's territories
of Georgia and Shirvan. While the initial attacks were repelled, the
Ottomans continued and grabbed considerable territory in
Transcaucasia, Dagestan, Kurdistan and
Luristan and in 993/1585 they
even took Tabriz.
In the midst of these foreign perils, rebellion broke out in Khorasan
fomented by (or on behalf of) Mohammad's son, Abbas. Ali Quli Khan
Shamlu, the lala of Abbas and Ismail II's man in
Abbas shah there April 1581. The following year the loyal
Qizilbash forces (the Turkmen and Takkalu who controlled Qazvin), with
vizier Mirza Salman and crown prince Sultan Hamza Mirza at their head
to confront the rebelling Ustajlu-Shamlu coalition which had assumed
control of Khorasan under the nominal rule of young Abbas. The
Ustajlu chief, Murshid Quli Khan, immediately acquiesced and received
a royal pardon. Shumlu leader, Ali Quli Khan, however, holed himself
Herat with Abbas. The vizier thought that the royal forces
failed to prosecute the siege sufficiently and accused the forces of
sedition. The loyal Qizibash recoiled at their treatment by Mirza
Salman, who they resented for a number of reasons (not least of which
was the fact that a Tajik was given military command over them), and
demanded that he be turned over to them. The crown prince (the
vizier's son-in-law) meekly turned him over, and the Qizilbash
executed him and confiscated his property. The siege of Herat
thus ended in 1583 without Ali Quli Khan backing down and Khorasan was
in a state of open rebellion.
In 1585 two events occurred that would combine to break the impasse
among the Qizilbash. First, in the west, the Ottomans, seeing the
disarray of the warriors, pressed deep into Safavid territory and
occupied the old capital of Tabriz. Crown prince Hamza Mirza, now 21
years and director of Safavid affairs, led a force to confront the
Ottomans, but in 1586 was murdered under mysterious circumstances. In
the east Murshid Quli Khan, of the Ustajlu tribe, managed to snatch
Abbas away from the Shamlus. Two years later in 1587, the massive
invasion of Khorasan by the
Uzbeks proved the occasion whereby Murshid
Quli Khan would make a play for supremacy in Qazvin. When he reached
the capital with Abbas a public demonstration in the boy's favor
decided the issue, and
Shah Mohammad voluntarily handed over the
insignia of kingship to his son, who was crowned Abbas I on October 1,
1588. The moment was grave for the empire, with the
Ottomans deep in
Persian territory in the west and north and the
Uzbeks in possession
of half of Khorasan in the east.
Shah Abbas (r. 1588–1629)
Main article: Abbas I of Persia
Shah ‘Abbās King of the Persians, copper engraving by Dominicus
Custos, Atrium heroicum Caesarum (1600–2)
The 16-year-old Abbas I was installed as nominal shah in 1588, but the
real power was intended to remain in the hands of his "mentor,"
Murshid Quli Khan, who reorganized court offices and principal
governorships among the Qizilbash and took the title of wakīl
for himself. Abbas' own position seemed even more dependent on
Qizilbash approval than even Mohammad Khodabanda's was. The dependence
of Abbas on the
Qizilbash (which provided the only military force) was
further reinforced by the precarious situation of the empire, in the
vice of Ottoman and Uzbek territorial plunder. Yet over the course of
ten years Abbas was able, using cautiously-timed but nonetheless
decisive steps, to affect a profound transformation of Safavid
administration and military, throw back the foreign invaders, and
preside over a flourishing of Persian art.
Restoration of central authority
Whether Abbas had fully formed his strategy at the onset, at least in
retrospect his method of restoring the shah's authority involved three
phases: (1) restoration of internal security and law and order; (2)
recovery of the eastern territories from the Uzbek's; and (3) recovery
of the western territories from the Ottomans. Before he could
begin to embark on the first stage, he needed relief from the most
serious threat to the empire: the military pressure from the Ottomans.
He did so by taking the humiliating step of coming to peace terms with
Ottomans by making, for now, permanent their territorial gains in
Iraq and the territories in the north, including Azerbaijan, Qarabagh,
Ganja, eastern Georgia (comprising the
Kingdom of Kartli
Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti),
Dagestan, and Kurdistan. At the same time, he took steps to
ensure that the
Qizilbash did not mistake this apparent show of
weakness as a signal for more tribal rivalry at the court. Although no
one could have bristled more at the power grab of his "mentor" Murshid
Quli Khan, he rounded up the leaders of a plot to assassinate the
wakīl and had them executed. Then, having made the point that he
would not encourage rivalries even purporting to favor his interests,
he felt secure enough to have Murshid Quli Khan assassinated on his
own orders in July 1589. It was clear that the style of
leadership would be entirely different than Mohammad Khodabanda's
Safavid Persia, 1598
Abbas was able to begin gradually transforming the empire from a
tribal confederation to a modern imperial government by transferring
provinces from mamalik (provincial) rule governed by a
and the revenue of which mostly supported local Qizilbash
administration and forces to khass (central) rule presided over by a
court appointee and the revenue of which reverted to the court.
Particularly important in this regard were the Gilan and Mazandaran
provinces, which produced Persia's single most important export; silk.
With the substantial new revenue, Abbas was able to build up a
central, standing army, loyal only to him. This freed him of his
Qizilbash warriors loyal to local tribal chiefs.
Safavid Persia, 1610
What effectively fully severed Abbas's dependence on the Qizilbash,
however, was how he constituted this new army. In order not to favor
one Turkic tribe over another and to avoid inflaming the Turk-Persian
enmity, he recruited his army from the "third force", a policy that
had been implemented in its baby-steps since the reign of Tahmasp
I—the Circassian, Georgian and to a lesser extent Armenian ghulāms
(slaves) which (after conversion to Islam) were trained for the
military or some branch of the civil or military administration. The
standing army created by Abbas consisted of: (1) 10,000-15,000 cavalry
ghulām regiments solely composed of ethnic Caucasians, armed with
muskets in addition to the usual weapons (then the largest cavalry in
the world); (2) a corps of musketeers, tufangchiyān, mainly
Iranians, originally foot soldiers but eventually mounted, and (3) a
corps of artillerymen, tūpchiyān. Both corps of musketeers and
artillerymen totaled 12,000 men. In addition the shah's personal
bodyguard, made up exclusively of Caucasian ghulāms, was dramatically
increased to 3,000. This force of well-trained Caucasian ghulams
under Abbas amounted to a total of near 40,000 soldiers paid for and
beholden to the Shah.
Abbas also greatly increased the number of cannons at his disposal,
permitting him to field 500 in a single battle. Ruthless
discipline was enforced and looting was severely punished. Abbas was
also able to draw on military advice from a number of European envoys,
particularly from the English adventurers Sir
Anthony Shirley and his
brother Robert Shirley, who arrived in 1598 as envoys from the Earl of
Essex on an unofficial mission to induce
Persia into an anti-Ottoman
alliance. As mentioned by the Encyclopaedia Iranica, lastly, from
1600 onwards, the Safavid statesman Allāhverdī Khan, in conjunction
with Robert Sherley, undertook further reorganizations of the army,
which meant among other things further dramatically increasing the
number of ghulams to 25,000.
Abbas also moved the capital to Isfahan, deeper into central Iran.
Abbas I built a new city next to the ancient Persian one. From this
time the state began to take on a more Persian character. The Safavids
ultimately succeeded in establishing a new Persian national monarchy.
Recovery of territory from the
Uzbeks and the Ottomans
See also: Ottoman–Safavid War (1603–18)
Abbas I as shown on one of the paintings in the Chehel Sotoun
Abbas I first fought the Uzbeks, recapturing
Herat and Mashhad in
1598. Then he turned against Persia's archrival, the Ottomans,
recapturing Baghdad, eastern
Iraq and the Caucasian provinces by 1616,
all through the 1603-1618, marking the first grand Safavid pitched
victory over the Ottomans. He also used his new force to dislodge the
Bahrain (1602) and, with English help, from Hormuz
(1622), in the
Persian Gulf (a vital link in Portuguese trade with
India). He expanded commercial links with the English East India
Company and the Dutch East India Company. Thus Abbas was able to break
the dependence on the
Qizilbash for military might indefinitely and
therefore was able to centralize control, for the first time since
fully the foundation of the Safavid state.
Ottoman Turks and Safavids fought over the fertile plains of Iraq
for more than 150 years. The capture of
Ismail I in 1509
was only followed by its loss to the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I in
1534. After subsequent campaigns, the Safavids recaptured
1623 during the
Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39)
Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39) yet lost it again to
Murad IV in 1638 after Abbas had died. Henceforth a treaty, signed in
Qasr-e Shirin known as the
Treaty of Zuhab was established delineating
a border between
Turkey in 1639, a border which still stands
in northwest Iran/southeast Turkey. The 150-year tug-of-war
Sunni and Shi'a rift in Iraq.
Quelling the Georgian uprising
See also: Capture of
Tbilisi and Gökçe war
Rostom (also known as Rustam Khan), viceroy of Kartli, eastern
Georgia, from 1633-1658.
In 1614–16 during the Ottoman-Safavid War (1603-1618), Abbas
suppressed a rebellion led by his formerly most loyal Georgian
subjects Luarsab II and Teimuraz I (also known as Tahmuras Khan) in
the Kingdom of Kakheti. In 1613, Abbas had appointed these trusted
Georgian gholams of his on the puppet thrones of
Kartli and Kakheti,
the Iranian Safavid ruled areas of Georgia. Later that year, when the
shah summoned them to join him on a hunting expedition in Mazandaran,
they didn't show up due to the fear they would be either imprisoned or
killed. Ultimately forming an alliance, the two sought refuge
with the Ottoman forces in Ottoman ruled Imereti. This defection of
two of the shah's most trusted subjects and gholams infuriated the
shah, as reported by the Safavid court historian Iskander Beg
The following spring in 1614, Abbas I appointed a grandson of
Alexander II of Imereti
Alexander II of Imereti to the throne of Kartli,
Jesse of Kakheti also
known as "Isā Khān". Raised at the court in
Isfahan and a
Muslim, he was fully loyal to the shah. Subsequently, the shah marched
upon Grem, the capital of Imereti, and punished its peoples for
harbouring his defected subjects. He returned to Kartli, and in two
punitive campaigns he devastated Tblisi, killed 60–70,000 Kakheti
Georgian peasants, and deported between 130,000-200,000 Georgian
captives to mainland Iran. After fully securing
the region, he executed the rebellious Luarsab II of
Kartli and later
had the Georgian queen Ketevan, who had been sent to the shah as
negotiator, tortured to death when she refused to renounce
Christianity, in an act of revenge for the recalcitrance of
Teimuraz. Kakheti lost two-thirds of its population in these
years by Abbas' punitive campaign. The majority were deported to Iran,
while some were slaughtered.
Teimuraz returned to eastern Georgia in 1615 and defeated a Safavid
force. It was just a brief setback, however, as Abbas had already been
making long-term plans to prevent further incursions. He was
eventually successful in making the eastern Georgian territories an
integral part of the Safavid provinces. In 1619 he appointed the loyal
Simon II (or Semayun Khan) on the symbolic throne of Kakheti, while
placing a series of his own governors to rule of districts where
rebellious inhabitants were mostly located. Moreover, he planned
to deport all nobles of Kartli. Iranian rule had been fully restored
over eastern Georgia, but the Georgian territories would continue to
produce resistance to Safavid enroachments from 1624 until Abbas'
Suppressing the Kurdish rebellion
In 1609–10, a war broke out between Kurdish tribes and the Safavid
Empire. After a long and bloody siege led by the Safavid grand vizier
Hatem Beg, which lasted from November 1609 to the summer of 1610, the
Kurdish stronghold of Dimdim was captured.
Shah Abbas ordered a
general massacre in Beradost and Mukriyan (Mahabad, reported by
Eskandar Beg Monshi, Safavid Historian (1557–1642), in "Alam Ara
Abbasi") and resettled the Turkic
Afshar tribe in the region while
deporting many Kurdish tribes to Khorasan. Nowadays, there
is a community of nearly 1.7 million people who are descendants of the
tribes deported from Kurdistan to Khorasan (Northeastern Iran) by the
Contacts with Europe during Abbas's reign
The ambassador Husain Ali Beg led the first Persian embassy to Europe
Abbas's tolerance towards Christians was part of his policy of
establishing diplomatic links with European powers to try to enlist
their help in the fight against their common enemy, the Ottoman
Empire. The idea of such an anti-Ottoman alliance was not a new
one—over a century before, Uzun Hassan, then ruler of part of Iran,
had asked the Venetians for military aid—but none of the Safavids
had made diplomatic overtures to Europe.
Ismail I was the first
of the Safavids to try to establish once again an alliance against the
common Ottoman enemy through the earlier stages of the
Habsburg–Persian alliance, but this also proved to be largely
unfruitful during his reign. Abbas's attitude, however, was in
marked contrast to that of his grandfather, Tahmasp I, who had
expelled the English traveller
Anthony Jenkinson from his court on
hearing he was a Christian. For his part, Abbas declared that he
"preferred the dust from the shoe soles of the lowest Christian to the
highest Ottoman personage." Abbas would take active and all
measures needed in order to get the alliances done.
Fresco in the Doge's Palace in
Venice depicting Doge Marino Grimani
receiving the Persian Ambassadors, 1599
In 1599, Abbas sent his first diplomatic mission to Europe. The group
Caspian Sea and spent the winter in Moscow before
proceeding through Norway and Germany (where it was received by
Emperor Rudolf II) to Rome, where
Pope Clement VIII
Pope Clement VIII gave the
travellers a long audience. They finally arrived at the court of
Philip III of Spain
Philip III of Spain in 1602. Although the expedition never managed to
return to Iran, being shipwrecked on the journey around Africa, it
marked an important new step in contacts between
Iran and Europe. The
Europeans began to be fascinated by the Iranians and their culture —
Twelfth Night (1601–02), for example, makes two
references (at II.5 and III.4) to 'the Sophy', then the English term
for the Shahs of Iran. Henceforward, the number of
diplomatic missions to and fro greatly increased.
Abbas I as a new Caesar being honoured by the Trumpets of Fame,
together with the 1609-1615 Persian embassy, in Allégorie de
l'Occasion, by Frans II Francken, 1628
The shah had set great store on an alliance with Spain, the chief
opponent of the
Ottomans in Europe. Abbas offered trading rights and
the chance to preach
Iran in return for help against
the Ottomans. But the stumbling block of Hormuz remained, a vassal
kingdom that had fallen into the hands of the
Spanish Habsburgs when
the King of Spain inherited the throne of Portugal in 1580. The
Spanish demanded Abbas break off relations with the English before
they would consider relinquishing the town. Abbas was unable to
comply. Eventually Abbas became frustrated with Spain, as he did with
the Holy Roman Empire, which wanted him to make his over 400,000
Armenian subjects swear allegiance to the Pope but did not trouble to
inform the shah when the Emperor Rudolf signed a peace treaty with the
Ottomans. Contacts with the Pope, Poland and Moscow were no more
More came of Abbas's contacts with the English, although England had
little interest in fighting against the Ottomans. The Sherley brothers
arrived in 1598 and helped reorganize the Iranian army, which proved
to be crucial in the Ottoman–Safavid War (1603–18), which resulted
in Ottoman defeats in all stages of the war and the first clear
pitched Safavid victory of their archrivals. One of the Shirley
brothers, Robert Shirley, would lead Abbas's second diplomatic mission
to Europe from 1609-1615. The English at sea, represented by the
English East India Company, also began to take an interest in Iran,
and in 1622 four of its ships helped Abbas retake Hormuz from the
Portuguese in the Capture of Ormuz (1622). This was the beginning of
the East India Company's long-running interest in Iran.
Succession and legacy of Abbas I
Due to his obsessive fear of assassination,
Shah Abbas either put to
death or blinded any member of his family who aroused his suspicion.
His oldest son, the crown prince Mohammad Baqer Mirza, was executed
following a court intrigue in which several
Circassians were involved,
while two others were blinded. Since two other sons had predeceased
him, the result was a personal tragedy for
Shah Abbas. When he died on
19 January 1629, he had no son capable of succeeding him.
During the early 17th century the power of the
diminished, the original militia that had helped
Ismail I capture
Tabriz and that had gained many administrative powers over the
centuries. Power was shifting to the new class of Caucasian deportees
and imports, many of the hundreds of thousands ethnic Georgians,
Circassians, and Armenians. This new layer of society would continue
to play a vital role in Iranian history up to and including the fall
of the Qajar dynasty, some 300 years after Abbas' death.
At its zenith, during the long reign of
Shah Abbas I, the empire's
reach comprised Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dagestan,
Kabardino-Balkaria, Bahrain, and parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey.
Decline of the Safavid state
Main articles: Hotaki dynasty, Afsharid dynasty, Russo-Persian War
(1722-1723), and Treaty of Constantinople (1724)
Shah Abbas the II holding a banquet for foreign dignitaries. Detail
from a ceiling fresco at the
Chehel Sotoun Palace in Isfahan.
In addition to fighting its perennial enemies, their archrival the
Ottomans and the
Uzbeks as the 17th century progressed,
Iran had to
contend with the rise of new neighbors. Russian
Muscovy in the
previous century had deposed two western Asian khanates of the Golden
Horde and expanded its influence into Europe, the
and Central Asia.
Astrakhan came under Russian rule, nearing the
Safavid possessions in Dagestan. In the far eastern territories, the
Mughals of India had expanded into Khorasan (now Afghanistan) at the
expense of Iranian control, briefly taking Kandahar.
David II of Kakheti
David II of Kakheti (Emamqoli Khan)
In 1659, the
Kingdom of Kakheti rose up against the Safavid Iranian
rule due to a change of policy that included the mass settling of
Qizilbash Turkic tribes in the region in order to repopulate the
Shah Abbas' earlier mass deportations of between
130,000 - 200,000 Georgian subjects to Iran's
mainland and massacre of another thousand in 1616 virtually left the
province without any even remotely substantial amount of population.
Bakhtrioni Uprising was successfully defeated under personal
Shah Abbas II himself. However, strategically it remained
inconclusive. The Iranian authority was restored in Kakheti, but
Qizilbash Turkics were prevented from settling in Kakheti, which
undermined the planned Iranian policies in the respective province.
More importantly, the Dutch East India company and later
English/British used their superior means of maritime power to control
trade routes in the western Indian Ocean. As a result,
Iran was cut
off from overseas links to East Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and
South Asia. Overland trade grew notably however, as
Iran was able
to further develop its overland trade with North and Central Europe
during the second half of the seventeenth century. In the late
seventeenth century, Iranian merchants established a permanent
presence as far north as Narva on the Baltic sea, in what now is
The Dutch and English were still able to drain the Iranian government
of much of its precious metal supplies. Except for
Shah Abbas II, the
Safavid rulers after Abbas I were therefore rendered ineffectual, and
the Iranian government declined and finally collapsed when a serious
military threat emerged on its eastern border in the early eighteenth
century. The end of the reign of Abbas II, 1666, thus marked the
beginning of the end of the Safavid dynasty. Despite falling revenues
and military threats, later shahs had lavish lifestyles. Sultan Husayn
(1694–1722) in particular was known for his love of wine and
disinterest in governance.
Map of the Safavid Empire, published 1736.
The country was repeatedly raided on its frontiers—
Kerman by Baloch
tribes in 1698, Khorasan by the Hotakis in 1717,
Dagestan and northern
Shirvan by the
Lezgins in 1721, constantly in
Mesopotamia by Sunni
peninsula Arabs. Sultan Hosein tried to forcibly convert his Afghan
subjects in Qandahar from
Sunni to the Shi'a sect of Islam. In
Ghilzai Afghan chieftain named
Mir Wais Hotak
Mir Wais Hotak revolted and
killed Gurgin Khan, the Safavid governor of the region, along with his
army. In 1722, an Afghan army led by Mir Wais' son Mahmud advanced on
the heart of the empire and defeated the government forces at the
Battle of Gulnabad. He then besieged the capital of Isfahan, until
Sultan Husayn abdicated and acknowledged him as the new king of
Persia.[full citation needed] At the same time, the Russians led
Peter the Great
Peter the Great attacked and conquered swaths of Safavid Iran's
North Caucasian, Transcaucasian, and northern mainland territories
through the Russo-Persian War (1722-1723). The Safavids' archrivals,
the neighbouring Ottomans, invaded western and northwestern Safavid
Iran and took swaths of territory there, including the city of
Baghdad. Together with the Russians, they agreed to divide and keep
the conquered Iranian territories for themselves as confirmed in the
Treaty of Constantinople (1724).
A map of Safavid
Empire in 1720, showing different states of Persia
The tribal Afghans rode roughshod over their conquered territory for
seven years but were prevented from making further gains by Nader
Shah, a former slave who had risen to military leadership within the
Afshar tribe in Khorasan, a vassal state of the Safavids. Quickly
making a name as a military genius both feared and respected amongst
its friends and enemies (including Persia's archrival the Ottoman
Empire, and Russia; both empires Nader would deal with soon
Nader Shah easily defeated the
Ghilzai Hotaki forces in
the 1729 Battle of Damghan. He had removed them from power and
banished them out of
Persia by 1729. In 1732 by the Treaty of Resht
and in 1735 Treaty of Ganja, he negotiated an agreement with the
government of Empress Anna Ioanovna for them to cede back the recently
annexed Iranian territories, making most of the
Caucasus fall back
into Iranian hands, while establishing an Irano-Russian alliance
against the common neighbouring Ottoman enemy. In the
Ottoman–Persian War (1730–35), he retook all territories lost by
the Ottoman invasion of the 1720s, as well as beyond. With the Safavid
state and its territories secured, in 1738 Nader conquered the
Hotaki's last stronghold in Qandahar; in the same year, in need of
fortune to aid his military careers against his Ottoman and Russian
imperial rivals, he started his invasion of the wealthy but weak
Empire accompanied by his Georgian subject Erekle II,
occupying Ghazni, Kabul, Lahore, and as far as Delhi, in India, when
he completely humiliated and looted the militarily inferior Mughals.
These cities were later inherited by his Abdali Afghan military
Shah Durrani. Nadir had effective control under Shah
Tahmasp II and then ruled as regent of the infant
Abbas III until 1736
when he had himself crowned shah.
Part of the Safavid Persian
Empire (on right), the Ottoman Empire, and
West Asia in general, Emanuel Bowen, 1744–52
Immediately after Nader Shah's assassination in 1747 and the
disintegration of his short-lived empire, the Safavids were
re-appointed as shahs of
Iran in order to lend legitimacy to the
nascent Zand dynasty. However, the brief puppet regime of Ismail III
ended in 1760 when
Karim Khan felt strong enough to take nominal power
of the country as well and officially end the Safavid dynasty.
Shia Islam as the state religion
Main article: Safavid conversion of
Iran from Sunnism to Shiism
Shah Suleiman I and his courtiers, Isfahan, 1670. Painter is Aliquli
Jabbadar, and is kept at The
St. Petersburg Institute of Oriental
Studies in Russia, ever since it was acquired by Tsar Nicholas II.
Note the two Georgian figures with their names at the top left.
Even though the Safavids were not the first Shia rulers in Iran, they
played a crucial role in making
Shia Islam the official religion in
the whole of Iran, as well as what is nowadays the Republic of
Azerbaijan. There were large Shia communities in some cities like
Sabzevar as early as the 8th century. In the 10th and 11th
centuries the Buwayhids, who were of the
Zaidiyyah branch of Shia,
ruled in Fars,
Isfahan and Baghdad. As a result of the Mongol conquest
and the relative religious tolerance of the Ilkhanids, Shia dynasties
were re-established in Iran,
Sarbedaran in Khorasan being the most
important. The Ilkhanid ruler
Öljaitü converted to
Twelver Shiism in
the 13th century.
Following his conquest of
Iran and Azerbaijan,
Ismail I made
conversion mandatory for the largely
Sunni population. The
or clergy were either killed or exiled. Ismail I, brought in
mainstream Ithnā'ashariyyah Shi'a religious leaders and granted them
land and money in return for loyalty. Later, during the Safavid and
especially Qajar period, the Shia Ulema's power increased and they
were able to exercise a role, independent of or compatible with the
Military and the role of Qizilbash
Main article: Qizilbash
A Safavid helmet
Qizilbash were a wide variety of
Shi'ite (ghulāt) and mostly
Turcoman militant groups who helped found the Safavid Empire. Their
military power was essential during the reign of the Shahs Ismail and
Qizilbash tribes were essential to the military of Iran
until the rule of
Shah Abbas I- their leaders were able to exercise
enormous influence and participate in court intrigues (assassinating
Ismail II for example).
A major problem faced by
Ismail I after the establishment of the
Safavid state was how to bridge the gap between the two major ethnic
groups in that state: the
Qizilbash ("Redhead") Turcomans, the "men of
sword" of classical Islamic society whose military prowess had brought
him to power, and the Persian elements, the "men of the pen", who
filled the ranks of the bureaucracy and the religious establishment in
the Safavid state as they had done for centuries under previous rulers
of Persia, be they Arabs, Mongols, or Turkmens. As Vladimir Minorsky
put it, friction between these two groups was inevitable, because the
Qizilbash "were no party to the national Persian tradition".
Between 1508 and 1524, the year of Ismail's death, the shah appointed
five successive Persians to the office of vakil. When the second
Persian vakil was placed in command of a Safavid army in Transoxiana,
the Qizilbash, considering it a dishonor to be obliged to serve under
him, deserted him on the battlefield with the result that he was
slain. The fourth vakil was murdered by the Qizilbash, and the fifth
was put to death by them.
Reforms in the military
Persian Musketeer in time of Abbas I by Habib-Allah Mashadi after
Falsafi (Berlin Museum of Islamic Art).
Shah Abbas realized that in order to retain absolute control over his
empire without antagonizing the Qizilbash, he needed to create reforms
that reduced the dependency that the shah had on their military
support. Part of these reforms was the creation of the 3rd force
within the aristocracy and all other functions within the empire, but
even more important in undermining the authority of the
the introduction of the Royal Corps into the military. This military
force would serve the shah only and eventually consisted of four
Shahsevans: these were 12,000 strong and built up from the small group
of qurchis that
Shah Abbas had inherited from his predecessor. The
Shahsevans, or "Friends of the King", were
Qizilbash tribesmen who had
forsaken their tribal allegiance for allegiance to the shah
Tahmasp I had started introducing huge amounts of Georgian,
Circassian and Armenian slaves and deportees from the Caucasus, of
whom a sizeable amount would become part of the future ghulam system.
Shah Abbas expanded this program significantly and fully implemented
it, and eventually created a force of 15,000 ghulam cavalrymen and
3,000 ghulam royal bodyguards. With the advent of the brother's
Shirley at Abbas' court and by the efforts of statesman Allahverdi
Khan, from 1600 onwards, the ghulam fighting regiments were further
dramatically expanded under Abbas reaching 25,000. Under Abbas,
this force amounted to a total of near 40,000 soldiers paid for and
beholden to the Shah. They would become the elite
soldiers of the Safavid armies (like the Ottoman Jannisary).
Musketers: realizing the advantages that the
Ottomans had because of
Shah Abbas was at pains to equip both the qurchi and
the ghulam soldiers with up-to-date weaponry. More importantly, for
the first time in Iranian history, a substantial infantry corps of
musketeers (tofang-chis), numbering 12 000, was created.
Artillery Corps: with the help of Westerners, he also formed an
artillery corps of 12 000 men, although this was the weakest element
in his army. According to Sir Thomas Herbert, who accompanied the
British embassy to
Persia in 1628, the Persians relied heavily on
support from the Europeans in manufacturing cannons. It wasn't
until a century later, when
Nader Shah became the Commander in Chief
of the military that sufficient effort was put into modernizing the
artillery corps and the Persians managed to excel and become
self-sufficient in the manufacturing of firearms.
Despite the reforms, the
Qizilbash would remain the strongest and most
effective element within the military, accounting for more than half
of its total strength. But the creation of this large standing
army, that, for the first time in Safavid history, was serving
directly under the Shah, significantly reduced their influence, and
perhaps any possibilities for the type of civil unrest that had caused
havoc during the reign of the previous shahs.
A proper term for the Safavid society is what we today can call a
meritocracy, meaning a society in which officials were appointed on
the basis of worth and merit, and not on the basis of birth. It was
certainly not an oligarchy, nor was it an aristocracy. Sons of nobles
were considered for the succession of their fathers as a mark of
respect, but they had to prove themselves worthy of the position. This
system avoided an entrenched aristocracy or a cast society. There
even are numerous recorded accounts of laymen that rose to high
official posts, as a result of their merits.
Nevertheless, the Iranian society during the Safavids was that of a
hierarchy, with the
Shah at the apex of the hierarchical pyramid, the
common people, merchants and peasants at the base, and the aristocrats
in between. The term dowlat, which in modern Persian means
"government", was then an abstract term meaning "bliss" or "felicity",
and it began to be used as concrete sense of the Safavid state,
reflecting the view that the people had of their ruler, as someone
elevated above humanity.
Also among the aristocracy, in the middle of the hierarchical pyramid,
were the religious officials, who, mindful of the historic role of the
religious classes as a buffer between the ruler and his subjects,
usually did their best to shield the ordinary people from oppressive
The customs and culture of the people
Jean Chardin devoted a whole chapter in his book to describing the
Persian character, which apparently fascinated him greatly. As he
spent a large bulk of his life in Persia, he involved himself in, and
took part in, their everyday rituals and habits, and eventually
acquired intimate knowledge of their culture, customs and character.
He admired their consideration towards foreigners, but he also
stumbled upon characteristics that he found challenging. His
descriptions of the public appearance, clothes and customs are
corroborated by the miniatures, drawings and paintings from that time
which have survived. As he describes them:
Their imagination is animated, quick and fruitful. Their memory is
free and prolific. They are very favorably drawn to the sciences, the
liberal and mechanical arts. Their temperament is open and leans
towards sensual pleasure and self-indulgence, which makes them pay
little attention to economy or business.
He then goes on:
They are very philosophical over the good and bad things in life and
about expectations for the future. They are little tainted with
avarice, desiring only to acquire in order to spend. They love to
enjoy what is to hand and they refuse nothing which contributes to it,
having no anxiety about the future which they leave to providence and
But as he also experienced:
...the Persians are dissembling, shamelessly deceitful and the
greatest flatterers in the world, using great deception and insolence.
They lack good faith in business dealings, in which they cheat so
adeptly that one is always taken in. Hypocrisy is the usual disguise
in which they proceed. They say their prayers and perform their
rituals in the most devout manner. They hold the wisest and most pious
conversation of which they are capable. And although they are
naturally inclined to humanity, hospitality, mercy and other worldly
goods, nevertheless, they do not cease feigning in order to give the
semblance of being much better than they really are.
Anthony Shirley and
Robert Shirley (pictured in 1622) helped modernize
the Persian Army.
It is however no question, from reading Chardin's descriptions of
their manners, that he considered them to be a well-educated and
well-behaved people, who certainly knew the strict etiquettes of
social intercourse. As he describes them,
The Persians are the most civilized of the peoples of the East, and
what the French are to Europe, they are to the Orient... Their bearing
and countenance is the best-composed, mild, serious, impressive,
genial and welcoming as far as possible. They never fail to perform at
once the appropriate gestures of politeness when meeting each other...
They are the most wheedling people in the world, with the most
engaging manners, the most supple spirits and a language that is
gentle and flattering, and devoid of unpleasant terms but rather full
Unlike Europeans, they much disliked physical activity, and were not
in favor of exercise for its own sake, preferring the leisure of
repose and luxuries that life could offer. Travelling was valued only
for the specific purpose of getting from one place to another, not
interesting them self in seeing new places and experiencing different
cultures. It was perhaps this sort of attitude towards the rest of the
world that accounted for the ignorance of Persians regarding other
countries of the world. The exercises that they took part in were for
keeping the body supple and sturdy and to acquire skills in handling
Archery took first place. Second place was held by fencing,
where the wrist had to be firm but flexible and movements agile.
Thirdly there was horsemanship. A very strenuous form of exercise
which the Persians greatly enjoyed was hunting.
A persian miniature depicting a polo-match
Since pre-Islamic times, the sport of wrestling had been an integral
part of the Iranian identity, and the professional wrestlers, who
performed in Zurkhanehs, were considered important members of the
society. Each town had their own troop of wrestlers, called Pahlavans.
Their sport also provided the masses with entertainment and spectacle.
Chardin described one such event:
The two wrestlers were covered in grease. They are present on the
level ground, and a small drum is always playing during the contest
for excitement. They swear to a good fight and shake hands. That done,
they slap their thighs, buttocks and hips to the rhythm of the drum.
That is for the women and to get themselves in good form. After that
they join together in uttering a great cry and trying to overthrow
As well as wrestling, what gathered the masses was fencing, tightrope
dancers, puppet-players and acrobats, performing in large squares,
such as the Royal square. A leisurely form of amusement was to be
found in the cabarets, particularly in certain districts, like those
near the mausoleum of Harun-e Velayat. People met there to drink
liqueurs or coffee, to smoke tobacco or opium, and to chat or listen
Clothes and Appearances
Lady's clothing in the 1600s
Men's clothing in the 1600s
As noted before, a key aspect of the Persian character was its love of
luxury, particularly on keeping up appearances. They would adorn their
clothes, wearing stones and decorate the harness of their horses. Men
wore many rings on their fingers, almost as many as their wives. They
also placed jewels on their arms, such as on daggers and swords.
Daggers were worn at the waist. In describing the lady's clothing, he
noted that Persian dress revealed more of the figure than did the
European, but that women appeared differently depending on whether
they were at home in the presence of friends and family, or if they
were in the public. In private they usually wore a veil that only
covered the hair and the back, but upon leaving the home, they put on
manteaus, large cloaks that concealed their whole bodies except their
faces. They often dyed their feet and hands with henna. Their
hairstyle was simple, the hair gathered back in tresses, often adorned
at the ends with pearls and clusters of jewels. Women with slender
waists were regarded as more attractive than those with larger
figures. Women from the provinces and slaves pierced their left
nostrils with rings, but well-born Persian women would not do
The most precious accessory for men was the turban. Although they
lasted a long time it was necessary to have changes for different
occasions like weddings and the Nowruz, while men of status never wore
the same turban two days running. Clothes that became soiled in any
way were changed immediately.
Turks and Tajiks
Although the Safavid rulers and citizens were of native stock and
continuously reasserted their Iranian identity, the power structure of
the Safavid state was mainly divided into two groups: the
Turkic-speaking military/ruling elite—whose job was to maintain the
territorial integrity and continuity of the Iranian empire through
their leadership—and the Persian-speaking administrative/governing
elite—whose job was to oversee the operation and development of the
nation and its identity through their high positions. Thus came the
term "Turk and Tajik", which was used by native Iranians for many
generations to describe the Persianate, or Turko-Persian, nature of
many dynasties which ruled over Greater
Iran between the 12th and 20th
centuries, in that these dynasties promoted and helped continue the
dominant Persian linguistic and cultural identity of their states,
although the dynasties themselves were of non-Persian (e.g. Turkic)
linguistic origins. The relationship between the Turkic-speaking
'Turks' and Persian-speaking 'Tajiks' was symbiotic, yet some form of
rivalry did exist between the two. As the former represented the
"people of the sword" and the latter, "the people of the pen",
high-level official posts would naturally be reserved for the
Persians. Indeed, this had been the situation throughout Persian
history, even before the Safavids, ever since the Arab conquest.
Shah Tahmasp introduced a change to this, when he, and the other
Safavid rulers who succeeded him, sought to blur the formerly defined
lines between the two linguistic groups, by taking the sons of
Turkic-speaking officers into the royal household for their education
in the Persian language. Consequently, they were slowly able to take
on administrative jobs in areas which had hitherto been the exclusive
preserve of the ethnic Persians.
The third force: Caucasians
Daud Khan Undiladze, military commander, ghilman and the governor of
Karabakh from 1625 to 1630.
See also: Iranian
Georgians and Iranian Circassians
From 1540 and onwards,
Shah Tahmasp initiated a gradual transformation
of the Iranian society by slowly constructing a new branch and layer
solely composed of ethnic Caucasians. The implementation of this
branch would be completed and significantly widened under Abbas the
Great (Abbas I). According to the Encyclopedia Iranica, for Tahmasp,
the background of this initiation and eventual composition that would
be only finalized under
Shah Abbas I, circled around the military
tribal elite of the empire, the Qizilbash, who believed that physical
proximity to and control of a member of the immediate Safavid family
guaranteed spiritual advantages, political fortune, and material
advancement. This was a huge impedance for the authority of the
Shah, and furthermore, it undermined any developments without the
agreeing or shared profit of the Qizilbash. As Tahmasp understood and
realized that any long-term solutions would mainly involve minimizing
the political and military presence of the
Qizilbash as a whole, it
would require them to be replaced by a whole new layer in society,
that would question and battle the authority of the
Qizilbash on every
possible level, and minimize any of their influences. This layer would
be solely composed of hundreds of thousands of deported, imported, and
to a lesser extent voluntarily migrated ethnic Circassians, Georgians,
and Armenians. This layer would become the "third force" in Iranian
society, alongside the other two forces, the Turkomans and Persians.
The series of campaigns that Tahmāsp subsequently waged after
realising this in the wider
Caucasus between 1540 and 1554 were meant
to uphold the morale and the fighting efficiency of the Qizilbash
military, but they brought home large numbers (over 70,000)
of Christian Georgian, Circassian and Armenian slaves as its main
objective, and would be the basis of this third force; the new
(Caucasian) layer in society. According to the Encyclopedia
Iranica, this would be as well the starting point for the corps of the
ḡolāmān-e ḵāṣṣa-ye-e šarifa, or royal slaves, who would
dominate the Safavid military for most of the empire's length, and
would form a crucial part of the third force. As non-Turcoman converts
to Islam, these Circassian and Georgian ḡolāmāns (also written as
ghulams) were completely unrestrained by clan loyalties and kinship
obligations, which was an attractive feature for a ruler like Tahmāsp
whose childhood and upbringing had been deeply affected by Qizilbash
tribal politics. Their formation, implementation, and usage was
very much alike to the janissaries of the neighbouring Ottoman
Empire. In turn, many of these transplanted women became wives and
concubines of Tahmasp, and the Safavid harem emerged as a competitive,
and sometimes lethal, arena of ethnic politics as cliques of Turkmen,
Circassian, and Georgian women and courtiers vied with each other for
the king's attention. Although the first slave soldiers would not
be organized until the reign of Abbas I, during Tahmasp's reign,
Caucasians already became important members of the royal household,
Harem and in the civil and military administration, and were
on their way of becoming an integral part of society. Tahmasp I's
successor, Ismail II, brought another 30,000
Circassians and Georgians
Iran of which many joined the ghulam force.
Following the full implementation of this policy by Abbas I, the women
(only Circassian and Georgian) now very often came to occupy prominent
positions in the harems of the Safavid elite, while the men who became
part of the ghulam "class" as part of the powerful third force were
given special training on completion of which they were either
enrolled in one of the newly created ghilman regiments, or employed in
the royal household. The rest of the masses of deportees and
importees, a significant portion numbering many hundreds of thousands,
were settled in various regions of mainland Iran, and were given all
kinds of roles as part of society, such as craftsmen, farmers, cattle
breeders, traders, soldiers, generals, governors, woodcutters, etc.,
all also part of the newly established layer in Iranian society.
Shah Abbas, who significantly enlargened and completed this program
and under whom the creation of this new layer in society may be
mentioned as fully "finalized", completed the ghulam system as well.
As part of its completion, he greatly expanded the ghulam military
corps from just a few hundred during Tahmāsp's era, to 15,000 highly
trained cavalrymen, as part of a whole army division of 40,000
Caucasian ghulams. He then went on to completely reduce the number of
Qizilbash provincial governorships and systematically moved qizilbash
governors to other districts, thus disrupting their ties with the
local community, and reducing their power. Most were replaced by a
ghulam, and within short time, Georgians, Circassians, and to a lesser
Armenians had been appointed to many of the highest offices of
state, and were employed within all other possible sections of
society. By 1595, Allahverdi Khan, a Georgian, became one of the most
powerful men in the Safavid state, when he was appointed the
Governor-General of Fars, one of the richest provinces in Persia. And
his power reached its peak in 1598, when he became the
commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Thus, starting from the
reign of Tahmāsp I but only fully implemented and completed by Shah
Abbas, this new group solely composed of ethnic Caucasians eventually
came to constitute a powerful "third force" within the state as a new
layer in society, alongside the Persians and the
Qizilbash Turks, and
it only goes to prove the meritocratic society of the Safavids.
It is estimated that during Abbas' reign alone some 130,000-200,000
Georgians, tens of thousands of Circassians, and
around 300,000 Armenians had been deported and imported from
Caucasus to mainland Iran, all obtaining functions and roles as
part of the newly created layer in society, such as within the highest
positions of the state, or as farmers, soldiers, craftspeople, as part
of the Royal harem, the Court, and peasantry, amongst others.
Emergence of a clerical aristocracy
An important feature of the Safavid society was the alliance that
emerged between the ulama (the religious class) and the merchant
community. The latter included merchants trading in the bazaars, the
trade and artisan guilds (asnāf) and members of the quasi-religious
organizations run by dervishes (futuvva). Because of the relative
insecurity of property ownership in Persia, many private landowners
secured their lands by donating them to the clergy as so called vaqf.
They would thus retain the official ownership and secure their land
from being confiscated by royal commissioners or local governors, as
long as a percentage of the revenues from the land went to the ulama.
Increasingly, members of the religious class, particularly the
mujtahids and the seyyeds, gained full ownership of these lands, and,
according to contemporary historian Iskandar Munshi,
Persia started to
witness the emergence of a new and significant group of
Akhbaris versus Usulis
The Akhbari movement "crystalized" as a "separate movement" with the
Muhammad Amin al-Astarabadi (died 1627 AD). It rejected
the use of reasoning in deriving verdicts and believed that only the
Quran, hadith, (prophetic sayings and recorded opinions of the Imams)
and consensus should be used as sources to derive verdicts (fatāwā).
Unlike Usulis, Akhbari did and do not follow marjas who practice
It achieved its greatest influence in the late Safavid and early
post-Safavid era, when it dominated
Twelver Shia Islam. However,
Muhammad Baqir Behbahani (died 1792), along with
Usuli mujtahids, crushed the Akhbari movement. It remains
only a small minority in the Shia Muslim world. One result of the
resolution of this conflict was the rise in importance of the concept
of ijtihad and the position of the mujtahid (as opposed to other
ulama) in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was from this time
that the division of the Shia world into mujtahid (those who could
follow their own independent judgment) and muqallid (those who had to
follow the rulings of a mujtahid) took place. According to author
Moojan Momen, "up to the middle of the 19th century there were very
few mujtahids (three or four) anywhere at any one time," but "several
hundred existed by the end of the 19th century."
Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, commonly referenced to using the title
Allamah, was a highly influential scholar during the 17th century
(Safavid era). Majlisi's works emphasized his desire to purge Twelver
Shi'ism of the influences of mysticism and philosophy, and to
propagate an ideal of strict adherence to the Islamic law
(sharia). Majlisi promoted specifically Shia rituals such as
mourning for Hussein ibn Ali and visitation (ziyarat) of the tombs of
the Imams and Imamzadas, stressing "the concept of the Imams as
mediators and intercessors for man with God."
State and government
The Safavid state was one of checks and balance, both within the
government and on a local level. At the apex of this system was the
Shah, with total power over the state, legitimized by his bloodline as
a seyyed, or descendant of Muhammad. So absolute was his power, that
the French merchant, and later ambassador to Persia, Jean Chardin
thought the Safavid Shahs ruled their land with an iron fist and often
in a despotic manner. To ensure transparency and avoid decisions
being made that circumvented the Shah, a complex system of bureaucracy
and departmental procedures had been put in place that prevented
fraud. Every office had a deputy or superintendent, whose job was to
keep records of all actions of the state officials and report directly
to the Shah. The
Shah himself exercised his own measures for keeping
his ministers under control by fostering an atmosphere of rivalry and
competitive surveillance. And since the Safavid society was
meritocratic, and successions seldom were made on the basis of
heritage, this meant that government offices constantly felt the
pressure of being under surveillance and had to make sure they
governed in the best interest of their leader, and not merely their
There probably did not exist any parliament, as we know them today.
But the Portuguese ambassador to the Safavids, De Gouvea, still
mentions the Council of State in his records, which perhaps was a
term for governmental gatherings of the time.
The highest level in the government was that of the Prime Minister, or
Grand Vizier (Etemad-e Dowlat), who was always chosen from among
doctors of law. He enjoyed tremendous power and control over national
affairs as he was the immediate deputy of the Shah. No act of the Shah
was valid without the counter seal of the Prime Minister. But even he
stood accountable to a deputy (vak’anevis), who kept records of his
decision-makings and notified the Shah. Second to the Prime Minister
post were the General of the Revenues (mostoufi-ye mamalek), or
finance minister, and the Divanbegi, Minister of Justice. The
latter was the final appeal in civil and criminal cases, and his
office stood next to the main entrance to the Ali Qapu palace. In
earlier times, the
Shah had been closely involved in judicial
proceedings, but this part of the royal duty was neglected by Shah
Safi and the later kings.
Next in authority were the generals: the General of the Royal Troops
(the Shahsevans), General of the Musketeers, General of the Ghulams
and The Master of Artillery. A separate official, the
Commander-in-Chief, was appointed to be the head of these
The Royal Court
Frontpage on Jean Chardin's book on his journeys to Persia, published
As for the royal household, the highest post was that of the Nazir,
Court Minister. He was perhaps the closest advisor to the Shah, and,
as such, functioned as his eyes and ears within the Court. His primary
job was to appoint and supervise all the officials of the household
and to be their contact with the Shah. But his responsibilities also
included that of being the treasurer of the Shah's properties. This
meant that even the Prime Minister, who held the highest office in the
state, had to work in association with the Nazir when it came to
managing those transactions that directly related to the Shah.
The second most senior appointment was the Grand Steward (Ichik Agasi
bashi), who would always accompany the
Shah and was easily
recognizable because of the great baton that he carried with him. He
was responsible for introducing all guests, receiving petitions
presented to the
Shah and reading them if required. Next in line were
the Master of the Royal Stables (Mirakor bashi) and the Master of the
Hunt (Mirshekar bashi). The
Shah had stables in all the principal
Shah Abbas was said to have about 30,000 horses in studs
around the country. In addition to these, there were separate
officials appointed for the caretaking of royal banquets and for
Chardin specifically noticed the rank of doctors and astrologers and
the respect that the Shahs had for them. The
Shah had a dozen of each
in his service and would usually be accompanied by three doctors and
three astrologers, who were authorized to sit by his side on various
occasions. The Chief Physician (Hakim-bashi) was a highly
considered member of the Royal court, and the most revered
astrologer of the court was given the title Munajjim-bashi (Chief
The Safavid court was furthermore a rich mix of peoples from its
earliest days. As Prof. David Blow states, foremost among the
courtiers were the old nobility of Turkoman
Qizilbash lords and their
sons. Although already by the early years of king Abbas' reign (r.
1588–1629) they were no longer controlling the state, the Turkoman
Qizilbash continued to provide many of the senior army officers and to
fill important administrative and ceremonial offices in the royal
household. There were the Persians who still dominated the
bureaucracy and under Abbas held the two highest government offices of
Grand Vizier and Comptroller-General of the Revenues (mostoufi-ye
mamalek), which was the nearest thing to a finance minister.
There were also the large number of gholams or "slaves of the shah",
who were mainly Georgians,
Circassians and Armenians. As a result
of Abbas' reforms, they held high offices in the army, the
administration and the royal household. Last but by no means least
there were the palace eunuchs who were also ghulams - "white" eunuchs
largely from the Caucasus, and "black" eunuchs from India and
Africa. Under Abbas, the eunuchs became an increasingly important
element at the court.
During the first century of the dynasty, the primary court language
remained Azeri, although this increasingly changed after the
capital was moved to Isfahan. David Blow adds; "it seems likely
that most, if not all, of the Turkoman grandees at the court also
spoke Persian, which was the language of the administration and
culture, as well as of the majority of the population. But the reverse
seems not to have been true. When Abbas had a lively conversation in
Turkish with the Italian traveller Pietro Della Valle, in front of his
courtiers, he had to translate the conversation afterwards into
Persian for the benefit of most of those present." Lastly, due to
the large amount of Georgians, Circassians, and
Armenians at the
Safavid court (the gholams and in the harem), the Georgian, Circassian
and Armenian languages were spoken as well, since these were their
mother tongues. Abbas himself was able to speak Georgian as
Tbilisi by French traveler Jean Chardin, 1671.
On a local level, the government was divided into public land and
royal possessions. The public land was under the rule of local
governors, or Khans. Since the earliest days of the Safavid dynasty,
Qizilbash generals had been appointed to most of these posts. They
ruled their provinces like petty shahs and spent all their revenues on
their own province, only presenting the
Shah with the balance. In
return, they had to keep ready a standing army at all times and
Shah with military assistance upon his request. It was
also requested from them that they appoint a lawyer (vakil) to the
Court who would inform them on matters pertaining to the provincial
Shah Abbas I intended to decrease the power of the
Qizilbash by bringing some of these provinces into his direct control,
creating so called Crown Provinces (Khassa). But it was
under influence by his Prime Minister, Saru Taqi, that initiated the
program of trying to increase the royal revenues by buying land from
the governors and putting in place local commissioners. In time,
this proved to become a burden to the people that were under the
direct rule of the Shah, as these commissioners, unlike the former
governors, had little knowledge about the local communities that they
controlled and were primarily interested in increasing the income of
the Shah. And, while it was in the governors’ own interest to
increase the productivity and prosperity of their provinces, the
commissioners received their income directly from the royal treasury
and, as such, did not care so much about investing in agriculture and
local industries. Thus, the majority of the people suffered from
rapacity and corruption carried out in the name of the Shah.
Democratic institutions in a totalitarian society
In 16th and 17th century Iran, there existed a considerable number of
local democratic institutions. Examples of such were the trade and
artisan guilds, which had started to appear in
Persia from the 1500s.
Also, there were the quazi-religious fraternities called futuvva,
which were run by local dervishes. Another official selected by the
consensus of the local community was the kadkhoda, who functioned as a
common law administrator. The local sheriff (kalantar), who was
not elected by the people but directly appointed by the Shah, and
whose function was to protect the people against injustices on the
part of the local governors, supervised the kadkhoda.
The Karkan, a tool used for punishment of state criminals
Persia there was little distinction between theology and
jurisprudence, or between divine justice and human justice, and it all
went under Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). The legal system was built up
of two branches: civil law, which had its roots in sharia, received
wisdom, and urf, meaning traditional experience and very similar to
the Western form of common law. While the imams and judges of law
applied civil law in their practice, urf was primarily exercised by
the local commissioners, who inspected the villages on behalf of the
Shah, and by the Minister of Justice (Divanbegi). The latter were all
secular functionaries working on behalf of the Shah.
The highest level in the legal system was the Minister of Justice, and
the law officers were divided into senior appointments, such as the
magistrate (darughah), inspector (visir), and recorder (vak’anevis).
The lesser officials were the qazi, corresponding a civil lieutenant,
who ranked under the local governors and functioned as judges in the
According to Chardin:
There were no particular place assigned for the administration of
justice. Each magistrate executes justice in his own house in a large
room opening on to a courtyard or a garden which is raised two or
three feet above the ground. The Judge is seated at one end of the
room having a writer and a man of law by his side.
Chardin also noted that bringing cases into court in
Persia was easier
than in the West. The judge (qazi) was informed of relevant points
involved and would decide whether or not to take up the case. Having
agreed to do so, a sergeant would investigate and summon the
defendant, who was then obliged to pay the fee of the sergeant. The
two parties with their witnesses pleaded their respective cases,
usually without any counsel, and the judge would pass his judgment
after the first or second hearing.
Criminal justice was entirely separate from civil law and was judged
upon common law administered through the Minister of Justice, local
governors and the Court minister (the Nazir). Despite being based on
urf, it relied upon certain sets of legal principles. Murder was
punishable by death, and the penalty for bodily injuries was
invariably the bastinado. Robbers had their right wrists amputated the
first time, and sentenced to death on any subsequent occasion. State
criminals were subjected to the karkan, a triangular wooden collar
placed around the neck. On extraordinary occasions when the
justice into his own hand, he would dress himself up in red for the
importance of the event, according to ancient tradition.
A 19th-century drawing of Isfahan
The growth of Safavid economy was fuelled by the stability which
allowed the agriculture to thrive, as well as trade, due to Iran's
position between the burgeoning civilizations of Europe to its west
and India and Islamic
Central Asia to its east and north. The Silk
Road which led through northern
Iran was revived in the 16th century.
Abbas I also supported direct trade with Europe, particularly England
and The Netherlands which sought Persian carpet, silk and textiles.
Other exports were horses, goat hair, pearls and an inedible bitter
almond hadam-talka used as a spice in India. The main imports were
spice, textiles (woolens from Europe, cottons from Gujarat), metals,
coffee, and sugar.
In the late 17th century, Safavid
Persia had higher living standards
than in Europe. According to traveller Jean Chardin, for example,
Persia had higher living standards than farmers in the most
fertile European countries.
According to the historian Roger Savory, the twin bases of the
domestic economy were pastoralism and agriculture. And, just as the
higher levels of the social hierarchy was divided between the Turkish
"men of the sword" and the Persian "men of the pen"; so were the lower
level divided between the Turcoman tribes, who were cattle breeders
and lived apart from the surrounding population, and the Persians, who
were settled agriculturalists.
The Safavid economy was to a large extent based on agriculture and
taxation of agricultural products. According to the French jeweller
Jean Chardin, the variety in agricultural products in
unrivaled in Europe and consisted of fruits and vegetables never even
heard of in Europe. Chardin was present at some feasts in
there were more than fifty different kinds of fruit. He thought that
there was nothing like it in France or Italy:
Tobacco grew all over the country and was as strong as that grown in
Brazil. Saffron was the best in the world... Melons were regarded as
excellent fruit, and there were more than 50 different sorts, the
finest of which came from Khorasan. And in spite of being transported
for more than thirty days, they were fresh when they reached
Isfahan... After melons the finest fruits were grapes and dates, and
the best dates were grown in Jahrom.
Despite this, he was disappointed when travelling the country and
witnessing the abundance of land that was not irrigated, or the
fertile plains that were not cultivated, something he thought was in
stark contrast to Europe. He blamed this on misgovernment, the sparse
population of the country, and lack of appreciation of agriculture
amongst the Persians.
In the period prior to
Shah Abbas I, most of the land was assigned to
officials (civil, military and religious). From the time of
onwards, more land was brought under the direct control of the shah.
And since agriculture accounted for by far largest share of tax
revenue, he took measures to expand it. What remained unchanged, was
the "crop-sharing agreement" between whomever was the landlord, and
the farmer. This agreement concisted of five elements: land, water,
plough-animals, seed and labour. Each element constituted 20 percent
of the crop production, and if, for instance, the farmer provided the
labour force and the animals, he would be entitled to 40 percent of
the earnings. According to contemporary historians, though,
the landlord always had the worst of the bargain with the farmer in
the crop-sharing agreements. In general, the farmers lived in comfort,
and they were well paid and wore good clothes, although it was also
noted that they were subject to forced labour and lived under heavy
Travel and Caravanserais
The Mothers Inn caravanserai in Isfahan, that was built during the
Shah Abbas II, was a luxury resort meant for the wealthiest
merchants and selected guests of the shah. Today it is a luxury hotel
and goes under the name of Hotel Abassi.
Horses were the most important of all the beasts of burden, and the
best were brought in from Arabia and Central-Asia. They were costly
because of the widespread trade in them, including to
India. The next most important mount, when traveling through Persia,
was the mule. Also, the camel was a good investment for the merchant,
as they cost nearly nothing to feed, carried a lot weight and could
travel almost anywhere.
Under the governance of the strong shahs, especially during the first
half of the 17th century, traveling through
Persia was easy because of
good roads and the caravanserais, that were strategically placed along
the route. Thévenot and Tavernier commented that the Persian
caravanserais were better built and cleaner than their Turkish
counterparts. According to Chardin, they were also more abundant
than in the Mughal or Ottoman Empires, where they were less frequent
but larger. Caravanserais were designed especially to benefit
poorer travelers, as they could stay there for as long as they wished,
without payment for lodging. During the reign of
Shah Abbas I, as he
tried to upgrade the
Silk route to improve the commercial prosperity
of the Empire, an abundance of caravanserais, bridges, bazaars and
roads were built, and this strategy was followed by wealthy merchants
who also profited from the increase in trade. To uphold the standard,
another source of revenue was needed, and road toll, that were
collected by guards (rah-dars), were stationed along the trading
routes. They in turn provided for the safety of the travelers, and
both Thevenot and Tavernier stressed the safety of traveling in 17th
century Persia, and the courtesy and refinement of the policing
guards. The Italian traveler
Pietro Della Valle
Pietro Della Valle was impressed by
an encounter with one of these road guards:
He examined our baggage, but in the most obliging manner possible, not
opening our trunks or packages, and was satisfied with a small tax,
which was his due...
Foreign trade and the Silk Route
Chehel Sotoun Palace in
Isfahan was where the
Shah would meet
foreign dignitaries and embassies. It is famous for the frescoes that
cover its walls.
Empire and the discovery of the trading route around
Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope in 1487 not only hit a death blow to
Venice as a
trading nation, but it also hurt the trade that was going on along the
Silk Route and especially the Persian Gulf. They correctly identified
the three key points to control all seaborne trade between Asia and
Europe: The Gulf of Aden, The
Persian Gulf and the Straits of Malacca
by cutting off and controlling these strategic locations with high
taxation. In 1602,
Shah Abbas I drove the Portuguese out of
Bahrain, but he needed naval assistance from the newly arrived British
East India Company
East India Company to finally expel them from the
Strait of Hormuz
Strait of Hormuz and
regain control of this trading route. He convinced the British to
assist him by allowing them to open factories in Shiraz,
Jask. With the later end of the Portuguese Empire, the
British, Dutch and French in particular gained easier access to
Persian seaborne trade, although they, unlike the Portuguese, did not
arrive as colonisers, but as merchant adventurers. The terms of trade
were not imposed on the Safavid shahs, but rather negotiated.
The Silk Routes
In the long term, however, the seaborne trade route was of less
significance to the Persians than was the traditional Silk Route. Lack
of investment in ship building and the navy provided the Europeans
with the opportunity to monopolize this trading route. The land-borne
trade would thus continue to provide the bulk of revenues to the
Persian state from transit taxes. The revenue came not so much from
exports, as from the custom charges and transit dues levied on goods
passing through the country.
Shah Abbas was determined to greatly
expand this trade, but faced the problem of having to deal with the
Ottomans, who controlled the two most vital routes: the route across
Arabia to the Mediterranean ports, and the route through
Istanbul. A third route was therefore devised which circumvented
Ottoman territory. By travelling across the
Caspian sea to the north,
they would reach Russia. And with the assistance of the Muscovy
Company they could cross over to Moscow, reaching Europe via Poland.
This trading route proved to be of vital importance, especially during
times of war with the Ottomans.
By the end of the 17th century, the Dutch had become dominant in the
trade that went via the Persian Gulf, having won most trade
agreements, and managed to strike deals before the British or French
were able to. They particularly established monopoly of the spice
trade between the East Indies and Iran.
The Armenian merchants and the trade of silk
The Vank Cathedral. The
Armenians moved into the
Jolfa district of
Isfahan and were free to build their prayer houses, eventually
becoming an integral part of the society.
The one valuable item, sought for in Europe, which
Iran possessed and
which could bring in silver in sufficient quantities was silk, which
was produced in the northern provinces, along the Caspian coastline.
The trade of this product was done by Turks and Persians to begin
with, but during the 17th century the Christian
increasingly vital in the trade of this merchandise, as
Whereas domestic trade was largely in the hands of Persian and Jewish
merchants, by the late 17th century, almost all foreign trade was
controlled by the Armenians. They were even hired by wealthy
Persian merchants to travel to Europe when they wanted to create
commercial bases there, and the
Armenians eventually established
themselves in cities like Bursa, Aleppo, Venice, Livorno, Marseilles
and Amsterdam. Realizing this,
Shah Abbas resettled large numbers
Armenians from the
Caucasus to his capital city and provided them
with loans. And as the shah realized the importance of doing
trade with the Europeans, he assured that the Safavid society was one
with religious tolerance. The Christian
Armenians thus became a
commercial elite in the Safavid society and managed to survive in the
tough atmosphere of business being fought over by the British, Dutch,
French, Indians and Persians, by always having large capital readily
available and by managing to strike harder bargains ensuring cheaper
prices than what, for instance, their British rivals ever were able
See also: Safavid art
Arts of Iran
Naqshe Jahan square in
Isfahan is the epitome of 16th-century Iranian
Culture within the Safavid family
The Safavid family was a literate family from its early origin. There
are extant Tati and Persian poetry from Shaykh Safi ad-din Ardabili as
well as extant Persian poetry from Shaykh Sadr ad-din. Most of the
extant poetry of
Ismail I is in Azerbaijani pen-name of
Khatai. Sam Mirza, the son of
Shah Esmail as well as some later
authors assert that Ismail composed poems both in Turkish and Persian
but only a few specimens of his Persian verse have survived. A
collection of his poems in Azeri were published as a Divan. Shah
Tahmasp who has composed poetry in Persian was also a painter, while
Shah Abbas II was known as a poet, writing Azerbaijani verses.
Sam Mirza, the son of
Ismail I was himself a poet and composed his
poetry in Persian. He also compiled an anthology of contemporary
Culture within the empire
Shah Abbas I recognized the commercial benefit of promoting the
arts—artisan products provided much of Iran's foreign trade. In this
period, handicrafts such as tile making, pottery and textiles
developed and great advances were made in miniature painting,
bookbinding, decoration and calligraphy. In the 16th century, carpet
weaving evolved from a nomadic and peasant craft to a well-executed
industry with specialization of design and manufacturing.
the center of this industry. The carpets of
Ardabil were commissioned
to commemorate the Safavid dynasty. The elegantly baroque yet famously
'Polonaise' carpets were made in
Iran during the 17th century.
19th-century painting of the
Chahar Bagh School
Chahar Bagh School in Isfahan
Using traditional forms and materials,
Reza Abbasi (1565–1635)
introduced new subjects to Persian painting—semi-nude women, youth,
lovers. His painting and calligraphic style influenced Iranian artists
for much of the Safavid period, which came to be known as the Isfahan
school. Increased contact with distant cultures in the 17th century,
especially Europe, provided a boost of inspiration to Iranian artists
who adopted modeling, foreshortening, spatial recession, and the
medium of oil painting (
Shah Abbas II sent
Muhammad Zaman to study in
Rome). The epic
Shahnameh ("Book of Kings"), a stellar example of
manuscript illumination and calligraphy, was made during Shah
Tahmasp's reign. (This book was written by Ferdousi in 1000 AD for
Sultan Mahmood Ghaznawi) Another manuscript is the Khamsa by Nizami
executed 1539-43 by
Aqa Mirak and his school in Isfahan.
Isfahan bears the most prominent samples of the Safavid architecture,
all constructed in the years after
Shah Abbas I permanently moved the
capital there in 1598: the Imperial Mosque, Masjid-e Shah, completed
in 1630, the
Imam Mosque (Masjid-e Imami) the Lutfallah Mosque and the
According to William Cleveland and Martin Bunton, the
Isfahan as the Great capital of
Persia and the
material splendor of the city attracted intellecutal's from all
corners of the world, which contributed to the cities rich cultural
life. The impressive achievements of its 400,000 residents prompted
the inhabitants to coin their famous boast, "
Isfahan is half the
Poetry stagnated under the Safavids; the great medieval ghazal form
languished in over-the-top lyricism. Poetry lacked the royal patronage
of other arts and was hemmed in by religious prescriptions.
The arguably most renowned historian from this time was Iskandar Beg
Munshi. His History of
Abbas the Great
Abbas the Great written a few years after
its subject's death, achieved a nuanced depth of history and
Isfahan School—Islamic philosophy revived
See also: School of Isfahan, Mulla Sadra, Mir Damad, Mir Fendereski,
Shaykh Bahai, and Mohsen Fayz Kashani
Islamic philosophy flourished in the Safavid era in what scholars
commonly refer to the School of Isfahan.
Mir Damad is considered the
founder of this school. Among luminaries of this school of philosophy,
the names of Iranian philosophers such as Mir Damad, Mir Fendereski,
Shaykh Bahai and
Mohsen Fayz Kashani standout. The school reached its
apogee with that of the Iranian philosopher
Mulla Sadra who is
arguably the most significant Islamic philosopher after Avicenna.
Mulla Sadra has become the dominant philosopher of the Islamic East,
and his approach to the nature of philosophy has been exceptionally
influential up to this day. He wrote the Al-Hikma al-muta‘aliya
fi-l-asfar al-‘aqliyya al-arba‘a ("The Transcendent Philosophy of
the Four Journeys of the Intellect"), a meditation on what he
called 'meta philosophy' which brought to a synthesis the
philosophical mysticism of Sufism, the theology of Shi'a Islam, and
the Peripatetic and Illuminationist philosophies of
According to the
Iranologist Richard Nelson Frye:
They were the continuers of the classical tradition of Islamic
thought, which after Averroes died in the Arab west. The Persians
schools of thought were the true heirs of the great Islamic thinkers
of the golden age of Islam, whereas in the Ottoman empire there was an
intellectual stagnation, as far as the traditions of Islamic
philosophy were concerned.
A Latin copy of The Canon of Medicine, dated 1484, located at the P.I.
Nixon Medical Historical Library of The University of Texas Health
Science Center at San Antonio, USA.
The status of physicians during the Safavids stood as high as ever.
Whereas neither the ancient Greeks nor the Romans accorded high social
status to their doctors, Iranians had from ancient times honored their
physicians, who were often appointed counselors of the Shahs. This
would not change with the Arab conquest of Iran, and it was primarily
the Persians that took upon them the works of philosophy, logic,
medicine, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, music and alchemy.
By the sixteenth century, Islamic science, which to a large extent
meant Persian science, was resting on its laurels. The works of
al-Razi (865-92) (known to the West as Razes) were still used in
European universities as standard textbooks of alchemy, pharmacology
The Canon of Medicine
The Canon of Medicine by
Avicenna (c. 980–1037) was
still regarded as one of the primary textbooks in medicine throughout
most of the civilized world. As such, the status of medicine in
the Safavid period did not change much, and relied as much on these
works as ever before.
Physiology was still based on the four humours
of ancient and mediaeval medicine, and bleeding and purging were still
the principal forms of therapy by surgeons, something even Thevenot
experienced during his visit to Persia.
The only field within medicine where some progress were made was
pharmacology, with the compilement of the "Tibb-e Shifa’i" in 1556.
This book was translated into French in 1681 by Angulus de Saint,
under the name "Pharmacopoea Persica".
See also: Persian architecture
Painting by the French architect, Pascal Coste, visiting
1841 (from Monuments modernes de la Perse). In the Safavid era the
Persian architecture flourished again and saw many new monuments, such
as the Masjid-e Shah, part of
Naghsh-i Jahan Square
Naghsh-i Jahan Square which is the
biggest historic plaza in the world.
Safavid Star from ceiling of
Shah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran.
A new age in
Iranian architecture began with the rise of the Safavid
dynasty. Economically robust and politically stable, this period saw a
flourishing growth of theological sciences. Traditional architecture
evolved in its patterns and methods leaving its impact on the
architecture of the following periods.
Indeed, one of the greatest legacies of the Safavids is the
architecture. In 1598, when
Shah Abbas decided to move the capital of
his Persian empire from the north-western city of
Qazvin to the
central city of Isfahan, he initiated what would become one of the
greatest programmes in Persian history; the complete remaking of the
city. By choosing the central city of Isfahan, fertilized by the
Zāyande roud ("The life-giving river"), lying as an oasis of intense
cultivation in the midst of a vast area of arid landscape, he both
distanced his capital from any future assaults by the
Ottomans and the
Uzbeks, and at the same time gained more control over the Persian
Gulf, which had recently become an important trading route for the
Dutch and British East India Companies.
The 16th-century Chehel Sotun pavilion in Qazvin, Iran. It is the last
remains of the palace of the second Safavid king,
Shah Tahmasp; it was
heavily restored by the Qajars in the 19th century.
The Chief architect of this colossal task of urban planning was Shaykh
Bahai (Baha' ad-Din al-`Amili), who focused the programme on two key
Shah Abbas's master plan: the Chahar Bagh avenue, flanked
at either side by all the prominent institutions of the city, such as
the residences of all foreign dignitaries. And the Naqsh-e Jahan
Square ("Examplar of the World"). Prior to the Shah's ascent to
Persia had a decentralized power-structure, in which different
institutions battled for power, including both the military (the
Qizilbash) and governors of the different provinces making up the
Shah Abbas wanted to undermine this political structure, and
the recreation of Isfahan, as a Grand capital of Persia, was an
important step in centralizing the power. The ingenuity of the
square, or Maidān, was that, by building it,
Shah Abbas would gather
the three main components of power in
Persia in his own backyard; the
power of the clergy, represented by the Masjed-e Shah, the power of
the merchants, represented by the Imperial Bazaar, and of course, the
power of the
Shah himself, residing in the Ali Qapu Palace.
Distinctive monuments like the Sheikh Lotfallah (1618), Hasht Behesht
(Eight Paradise Palace) (1469) and the Chahar Bagh School(1714)
Isfahan and other cities. This extensive development of
architecture was rooted in Persian culture and took form in the design
of schools, baths, houses, caravanserai and other urban spaces such as
bazaars and squares. It continued until the end of the Qajar
The languages of the court, military, administration and culture
The Safavids by the time of their rise were Azerbaijani-speaking
although they also used Persian as a second language. The language
chiefly used by the Safavid court and military establishment was
Azerbaijani. But the official language of the empire as
well as the administrative language, language of correspondence,
literature and historiography was Persian. The inscriptions on
Safavid currency were also in Persian.
Scene from Attar's The Conference of the Birds, by Habibulla Meshedi
Safavids also used Persian as a cultural and administrative language
throughout the empire and were bilingual in Persian. According to
Arnold J. Toynbee,
In the heyday of the Mughal, Safawi, and Ottoman regimes New Persian
was being patronized as the language of litterae humaniores by the
ruling element over the whole of this huge realm, while it was also
being employed as the official language of administration in those
two-thirds of its realm that lay within the Safawi and the Mughal
According to John R. Perry,
In the 16th century, the Turcophone Safavid family of
Azerbaijan, probably of Turkicized Iranian, origin, conquered
established Turkic, the language of the court and the military, as a
high-status vernacular and a widespread contact language, influencing
spoken Persian, while written Persian, the language of high literature
and civil administration, remained virtually unaffected in status and
According to Zabiollah Safa,
In day-to-day affairs, the language chiefly used at the Safavid court
and by the great military and political officers, as well as the
religious dignitaries, was Turkish, not Persian; and the last class of
persons wrote their religious works mainly in Arabic. Those who wrote
in Persian were either lacking in proper tuition in this tongue, or
Iran and hence at a distance from centers where Persian
was the accepted vernacular, endued with that vitality and
susceptibility to skill in its use which a language can have only in
places where it truly belongs.
Prince Muhammad-Beik of Georgia by
Reza Abbasi (1620)
According to É. Á. Csató et al.,
A specific Turkic language was attested in Safavid
Persia during the
16th and 17th centuries, a language that Europeans often called
Persian Turkish ("Turc Agemi", "lingua turcica agemica"), which was a
favourite language at the court and in the army because of the Turkic
origins of the Safavid dynasty. The original name was just turki, and
so a convenient name might be Turki-yi Acemi. This variety of Persian
Turkish must have been also spoken in the Caucasian and Transcaucasian
regions, which during the 16th century belonged to both the Ottomans
and the Safavids, and were not fully integrated into the Safavid
empire until 1606. Though that language might generally be identified
as Middle Azerbaijanian, it is not yet possible to define exactly the
limits of this language, both in linguistic and territorial respects.
It was certainly not homogenous—maybe it was an
Azerbaijanian-Ottoman mixed language, as Beltadze (1967:161) states
for a translation of the gospels in Georgian script from the 18th
According to Rula Jurdi Abisaab,
Although the Arabic language was still the medium for religious
scholastic expression, it was precisely under the Safavids that hadith
complications and doctrinal works of all sorts were being translated
to Persian. The 'Amili (Lebanese scholars of Shi'i faith) operating
through the Court-based religious posts, were forced to master the
Persian language; their students translated their instructions into
Persian. Persianization went hand in hand with the popularization of
'mainstream' Shi'i belief.
According to Cornelis Versteegh,
Safavid dynasty under
Shah Ismail (961/1501) adopted Persian and
Shi'ite form of Islam as the national language and religion.
According to David Blow,
The primary court language [with Abbas I's reign (r. 1588–1629)]
remained Turkish. But it was not the Turkish of Istanbul. It was a
Turkish dialect, the dialect of the
Qizilbash Turkomans, which is
still spoken today in the province of Azerbaijan, in north-western
Iran. This form of Turkish was also the mother-tongue of
although he was equally at ease speaking Persian. It seems likely that
most, if not all, of the Turkoman grandees at the court also spoke
Persian, which was the language of the administration and culture, as
well as of the majority of the population. But the reverse seems not
to have been true. When Abbas had a lively conversation in Turkish
with the Italian traveller Pietro Della Valle, in front of his
courtiers, he had to translate the conversation afterwards into
Persian for the benefit of most of those present.
Regarding the usage of Georgian, Circassian and Armenian at the Royal
Court, David Blow states,
Georgian, Circassian and Armenian were also spoken, since these were
the mother-tongues of many of the ghulams, as well as of a high
proportion of the women of the harem. Figueroa heard Abbas speak
Georgian, which he had no doubt acquired from his Georgian ghulams and
It was the Safavids who made
Iran the spiritual bastion of Shi’ism,
and the repository of Persian cultural traditions and self-awareness
of Iranianhood, acting as a bridge to modern Iran. The founder of the
Shah Isma'il, adopted the title of "Persian Emperor"
Pādišah-ī Īrān, with its implicit notion of an Iranian state
stretching from Khorasan as far as Euphrates, and from the
Oxus to the
southern Territories of the Persian Gulf. According to Professor
In a number of ways the Safavids affected the development of the
modern Iranian state: first, they ensured the continuance of various
ancient and traditional Persian institutions, and transmitted these in
a strengthened, or more 'national', form; second, by imposing Ithna
Shi'a Islam on
Iran as the official religion of the Safavid
state, they enhanced the power of mujtahids. The Safavids thus set in
train a struggle for power between the turban and the crown that is to
say, between the proponents of secular government and the proponents
of a theocratic government; third, they laid the foundation of
alliance between the religious classes ('Ulama') and the bazaar which
played an important role both in the Persian Constitutional Revolution
of 1905–1906, and again in the Islamic Revolution of 1979; fourth
the policies introduced by
Shah Abbas I conduced to a more centralized
The empire presided over by the Safavids was not a revival of the
Achaemenids or the Sasanians, and it more resembled the
Timurid empires than the Islamic caliphate. Nor was it a direct
precursor to the modern Iranian state. According to Donald Struesand,
"[a]lthough the Safavid unification of the eastern and western halves
of the Iranian plateau and imposition of
Twelver Shii Islam on the
region created a recognizable precursor of modern Iran, the Safavid
polity itself was neither distinctively Iranian nor national."
Rudolph Matthee concluded that "[t]hough not a nation-state, Safavid
Iran contained the elements that would later spawn one by generating
many enduring bureaucratic features and by initiating a polity of
overlapping religious and territorial boundaries."
Safavid Shahs of Iran
Safavid dynasty timeline
Ismail I 1501–1524
Tahmasp I 1524–1576
Ismail II 1576–1578
Mohammad Khodabanda 1578–1587
Abbas I 1587–1629
Abbas II 1642–1666
Suleiman I 1666–1694
Sultan Husayn I 1694–1722
Tahmasp II 1722–1732
Abbas III 1732–1736
List of Shi'a Muslim dynasties
Safavid conversion of
Iran from Sunnism to Shiism
List of the mothers of the Safavid Shahs
Khanates of the Caucasus
References and notes
^ mulk-i vasi' al-fazā-yi īrān
^ Matthee* Matthee, Rudi (1 September 2009). "Was Safavid
Empire?". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. 53
(1): 241. doi:10.1163/002249910X12573963244449. The term 'Iran', which
after an absence of some six centuries had re-entered usage with the
Ilkhanid branch of the Mongols, conveyed a shared self-awareness among
the political and cultural elite of a geographical entity with
distinct territorial and political implications. A core element of the
Safavid achievement was the notion that the dynasty had united the
eastern and western halves of Iran, Khurasan and Herat, the lands of
the Timurids, in the East, and the territory of the Aq-Quyunlu in the
West. The term mulk-i vasi' al-faza-yi Iran, 'the expansive realm of
Iran', found in the seventeenth-century chronicle, Khuld-i barin, and
again, in near identical terms, in the travelogue of
Shah Sulayman's envoy to Siam in the 1680s, similarly conveys the
authors pride and self-consciousness with regard to the territory they
inhabited or hailed from.
^ mamlikat-i īrān
^ Savory, Roger (2 January 2007). "The Safavid state and polity".
Iranian Studies. 7 (1-2): 206. doi:10.1080/00210867408701463. The
somewhat vague phrase used during the early Safavid period, mamalik-i
mahrusa, had assumed more concrete forms: mamālik-i īrān;
mamālik-i 'ajam; mamlikat-i īrān; mulk-i īrān; or simply īrān.
The royal throne was variously described as sarīr-i saltanat-i
īrān; takht-i īrān; and takht-i sultān (sic)-i īrān. The
inhabitants of the Safavid empire are referred to as ahl-i īrān, and
Iskandar Beg describes himself as writing the history of the Iranians
(sharh-i ahvāl-i īrān va īrāniān).
Shah Abbas I is described as
farmānravā-yi īrān and shahryār-i īrān; his seat is
pāyitakht-i pādishāhān-i īrān, takhtgāh-i salātin-i īrān, or
dār al-mulk-i īrān. His sovereign power is referred to as
farmāndahi-yi mulk-i īrān, saltanat va pādishāhi-yi īrān,
pādishāhi-yi īrān. The cities of
Iran (bilād-i īrān) are
thought of as belonging to a positive entity or state:
referred to as a'zam-i bilād-i īrān (the greatest of the cities of
Isfahan as khulāsa-yi mulk-i īrān (the choicest part of
the realm of Iran). ... The sense of geographical continuity referred
to earlier is preserved by a phrase like kull-i vilāyat-i
īrānzamīn. ... Affairs of state are referred to as muhimmāt-i
īrān. To my mind however, one of the clearest indications that the
Safavid state had become a state in the full sense of the word is
provided by the revival of the ancient title of sipahsālār-i īrān
or "commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Iran".
^ Ingvild Flaskerud (26 November 2010). Visualizing Belief and Piety
in Iranian Shiism. Continuum International Publishing Group.
pp. 182–183. ISBN 978-1-4411-4907-7. Retrieved 24 July
^ "... the Order of the Lion and the Sun, a device which, since
the 17 century at least, appeared on the national flag of the Safavids
the lion representing 'Ali and the sun the glory of the Shi'i faith",
Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovskiĭ, J. M. Rogers, Hermitage Rooms at
Somerset House, Courtauld Institute of Art, Heaven on earth:
Islamic Lands: Works from the State Hermitage Museum and the Khalili
Collection, Prestel, 2004, p. 178.
^ a b Roemer, H. R. (1986). "The Safavid Period". The Cambridge
History of Iran, Vol. 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, pp. 189–350. ISBN 0-521-20094-6, p.
331: "Depressing though the condition in the country may have been at
the time of the fall of Safavids, they cannot be allowed to overshadow
the achievements of the dynasty, which was in many respects to prove
essential factors in the development of
Persia in modern times. These
include the maintenance of Persian as the official language and of the
present-day boundaries of the country, adherence to the Twelever
Shi'i, the monarchical system, the planning and architectural features
of the urban centers, the centralised administration of the state, the
alliance of the Shi'i
Ulama with the merchant bazaars, and the
symbiosis of the Persian-speaking population with important
non-Persian, especially Turkish speaking minorities".
^ a b c Rudi Matthee, "Safavids" in Encyclopædia Iranica, accessed on
April 4, 2010. "The Persian focus is also reflected in the fact that
theological works also began to be composed in the Persian language
and in that Persian verses replaced Arabic on the coins." "The
political system that emerged under them had overlapping political and
religious boundaries and a core language, Persian, which served as the
literary tongue, and even began to replace Arabic as the vehicle for
^ Ronald W Ferrier, The Arts of Persia. Yale University Press. 1989,
^ a b John R Perry, "Turkic-Iranian contacts", Encyclopædia Iranica,
January 24, 2006: "... written Persian, the language of high
literature and civil administration, remained virtually unaffected in
status and content"
^ a b Cyril Glassé (ed.), The New Encyclopedia of Islam, Lanham,
Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, revised ed., 2003,
ISBN 0-7591-0190-6, p. 392: "
Shah Abbas moved his capital from
Qazvin to Isfahan. His reigned marked the peak of Safavid dynasty's
achievement in art, diplomacy, and commerce. It was probably around
this time that the court, which originally spoke a Turkic language,
began to use Persian"
^ Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, V, pp. 514-515. Excerpt: "in
the heyday of the Mughal, Safawi, and Ottoman regimes New Persian was
being patronized as the language of literae humaniores by the ruling
element over the whole of this huge realm, while it was also being
employed as the official language of administration in those
two-thirds of its realm that lay within the Safawi and the Mughal
^ a b c d Mazzaoui, Michel B; Canfield, Robert (2002). "Islamic
Central Asia in the early modern
Persia in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University
Press. pp. 86–7. ISBN 978-0-521-52291-5. Safavid power
with its distinctive Persian-Shi'i culture, however, remained a middle
ground between its two mighty Turkish neighbors. The Safavid state,
which lasted at least until 1722, was essentially a "Turkish" dynasty,
with Azeri Turkish (
Azerbaijan being the family's home base) as the
language of the rulers and the court as well as the
Shah Ismail wrote poetry in Turkish. The administration
nevertheless was Persian, and the
Persian language was the vehicle of
diplomatic correspondence (insha'), of belles-lettres (adab), and of
^ Ruda Jurdi Abisaab. "
Iran and Pre-Independence Lebanon" in Houchang
Esfandiar Chehabi, Distant Relations:
Iran and Lebanon in the Last 500
Years, IB Tauris 2006, p. 76: "Although the Arabic language was still
the medium for religious scholastic expression, it was precisely under
the Safavids that hadith complications and doctrinal works of all
sorts were being translated to Persian. The 'Amili (Lebanese scholars
of Shi'i faith) operating through the Court-based religious posts,
were forced to master the Persian language; their students translated
their instructions into Persian. Persianization went hand in hand with
the popularization of 'mainstream' Shi'i belief."
^ Floor, Willem; Javadi, Hasan (2013). "The Role of Azerbaijani
Turkish in Safavid Iran". Iranian Studies. 46 (4): 569–581.
^ Hovannisian, Richard G.; Sabagh, Georges (1998). The Persian
Presence in the Islamic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
p. 240. ISBN 978-0521591850.
^ Axworthy, Michael (2010). The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from
Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant. I.B.Tauris. p. 33.
^ a b Savory, Roger (2007).
Iran Under the Safavids. Cambridge
University Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-521-04251-2. qizilbash
normally spoke Azari brand of Turkish at court, as did the Safavid
shahs themselves; lack of familiarity with the
Persian language may
have contributed to the decline from the pure classical standards of
^ a b c Zabiollah Safa (1986), "Persian
Literature in the Safavid
Period", The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 6: The Timurid and
Safavid Periods. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
ISBN 0-521-20094-6, pp. 948–65. P. 950: "In day-to-day affairs,
the language chiefly used at the Safavid court and by the great
military and political officers, as well as the religious dignitaries,
was Turkish, not Persian; and the last class of persons wrote their
religious works mainly in Arabic. Those who wrote in Persian were
either lacking in proper tuition in this tongue, or wrote outside Iran
and hence at a distance from centers where Persian was the accepted
vernacular, endued with that vitality and susceptibility to skill in
its use which a language can have only in places where it truly
^ Price, Massoume (2005). Iran's Diverse Peoples: A Reference
Sourcebook. ABC-CLIO. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-57607-993-5. The
Shah was a native Turkic speaker and wrote poetry in the Azerbaijani
^ Blow, David (2009).
Shah Abbas: The Ruthless King Who Became an
Iranian Legend. I.B.Tauris. pp. 165–166.
ISBN 978-0857716767. Georgian, Circassian and Armenian were also
spoken [at the court], since these were the mother-tongues of many of
the ghulams, as well as of a high proportion of the women of the
harem. Figueroa heard Abbas speak Georgian, which he had no doubt
acquired from his Georgian ghulams and concubines.
^ Ferrier, RW, A Journey to Persia: Jean Chardin's Portrait of a
Seventeenth-century Empire, p. ix.
^ The New Encyclopedia of Islam, Ed. Cyril Glassé, (Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, 2008), 449.
Afšār, ta·līf-i Iskandar Baig Turkmān. Zīr-i naẓar bā
tanẓīm-i fihristhā wa muqaddama-i Īraǧ (2003). Tārīkh-i
ʻʻālamārā-yi ʻʻAbbāsī (in Persian) (Čāp-i 3. ed.). Tihrān:
Mu·assasa-i Intišārāt-i Amīr Kabīr. pp. 17, 18, 19, 79.
p. 17: dudmān-i safavīa
p. 18: khāndān-i safavīa
p. 19: sīlsīla-i safavīa
p. 79: sīlsīla-i alīa-i safavīa
^ "SAFAVID DYNASTY". Encyclopædia Iranica.
^ Streusand, Douglas E., Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans,
Safavids, and Mughals (Boulder, Col : Westview Press, 2011)
("Streusand"), p. 135.
^ Helen Chapin Metz. Iran, a Country study. 1989. University of
Michigan, p. 313.
^ Emory C. Bogle. Islam: Origin and Belief. University of Texas Press.
1989, p. 145.
^ Stanford Jay Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge
University Press. 1977, p. 77.
^ Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire, IB
Tauris (March 30, 2006).
^ a b c d e f g RM Savory, Safavids, Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed.
^ a b RM Savory. Ebn Bazzaz. Encyclopædia Iranica
^ a b "Peoples of Iran" Encyclopædia Iranica. RN Frye.
^ Aptin Khanbaghi (2006) The Fire, the Star and the Cross: Minority
Religions in Medieval and Early. London & New York. IB Tauris.
ISBN 1-84511-056-0, pp. 130-1
^ a b Yarshater 2001, p. 493.
^ a b Khanbaghi 2006, p. 130.
^ a b Anthony Bryer. "Greeks and Türkmens: The Pontic Exception",
Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 29 (1975), Appendix II "Genealogy of the
Muslim Marriages of the Princesses of Trebizond"
^ Why is there such confusion about the origins of this important
dynasty, which reasserted Iranian identity and established an
independent Iranian state after eight and a half centuries of rule by
foreign dynasties? RM Savory,
Iran under the Safavids (Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1980), p. 3.
^ Alireza Shapur Shahbazi (2005), "The History of the Idea of Iran",
in Vesta Curtis ed., Birth of the Persian Empire, IB Tauris, London,
p. 108: "Similarly the collapse of Sassanian Eranshahr in AD 650 did
not end Iranians' national idea. The name "Iran" disappeared from
official records of the Saffarids, Samanids, Buyids, Saljuqs and their
successor. But one unofficially used the name Iran, Eranshahr, and
similar national designations, particularly Mamalek-e
Iran or "Iranian
lands", which exactly translated the old Avestan term Ariyanam
Daihunam. On the other hand, when the Safavids (not Reza Shah, as is
popularly assumed) revived a national state officially known as Iran,
bureaucratic usage in the Ottoman empire and even
Iran itself could
still refer to it by other descriptive and traditional appellations".
^ In the pre-Safavid written work Safvat as-Safa (oldest manuscripts
from 1485 and 1491), the origin of the Safavids is tracted to Piruz
Shah Zarin Kolah who is called a Kurd from Sanjan, while in the
post-Safavid manuscripts, this portion has been excised and Piruz Shah
Zarin Kollah is made a descendant of the Imams. R Savory, "Ebn Bazzaz"
in Encyclopædia Iranica). In the Silsilat an-nasab-i Safawiya
(composed during the reign of
Shah Suleiman, 1667–94), by Hussayn
ibn Abdal Zahedi, the ancestry of the Safavid was purported to be
tracing back to Hijaz and the first Shi'i
Imam as follows: Shaykh Safi
al-din Abul Fatah Eshaq ibn (son of) Shaykh Amin al-Din Jabrail ibn
Qutb al-din ibn Salih ibn
Muhammad al-Hafez ibn Awad ibn Firuz Shah
Zarin Kulah ibn Majd ibn Sharafshah ibn
Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Seyyed
Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn
Seyyed Ja'afar ibn
Muhammad ibn Seyyed
Seyyed Ahmad 'Arabi ibn
Seyyed Abul Qasim Hamzah ibn Musa al-Kazim ibn Ja'far As-Sadiq ibn
Muhammad al-Baqir ibn
Imam Zayn ul-'Abedin ibn Hussein ibn Ali ibn Abi
Taleb Alayha as-Salam. There are differences between this and the
oldest manuscript of Safwat as-Safa. Seyyeds have been added from
Shah Zarin Kulah up to the first Shi'i
Imam and the nisba
"Al-Kurdi" has been excised. The title/name "Abu Bakr" (also the name
of the first Caliph and highly regarded by Sunnis) is deleted from
Qutb ad-Din's name. ُSource: Husayn ibn Abdāl Zāhedī, 17th cent.
Silsilat al-nasab-i Safavīyah, nasabnāmah-'i pādishāhān bā
ʻuzmat-i Safavī, ta'līf-i Shaykh Husayn pisar-i Shaykh Abdāl
Pīrzādah Zāhedī dar 'ahd-i Shāh-i Sulaymnān-i Safavī. Berlīn,
Chāpkhānah-'i Īrānshahr, 1343 (1924), 116 pp. Original Persian:
شیخ صفی الدین ابو الفتح اسحق ابن شیخ
امین الدین جبرائیل بن قطب الدین ابن
صالح ابن محمد الحافظ ابن عوض ابن
فیروزشاه زرین کلاه ابن محمد ابن شرفشاه
ابن محمد ابن حسن ابن سید محمد ابن
ابراهیم ابن سید جعفر بن سید محمد ابن
سید اسمعیل بن سید محمد بن سید احمد
اعرابی بن سید قاسم بن سید ابو القاسم
حمزه بن موسی الکاظم ابن جعفر الصادق
ابن محمد الباقر ابن امام زین العابدین
بن حسین ابن علی ابن ابی طالب علیه
^ R.M. Savory, "Safavid Persia" in: Ann Katherine Swynford Lambton,
Peter Malcolm Holt, Bernard Lewis, The Cambridge History of Islam,
Cambridge University Press, 1977. p. 394: "They (Safavids after the
establishment of the Safavid state) fabricated evidence to prove that
the Safavids were Sayyids."
^ F. Daftary, "Intellectual Traditions in Islam", I.B.Tauris, 2001. p.
147: "But the origins of the family of Shaykh Safi al-Din go back not
to Hijaz but to Kurdistan, from where, seven generations before him,
Shah Zarin-kulah had migrated to Adharbayjan"
^ Tamara Sonn. A Brief History of Islam, Blackwell Publishing, 2004,
p. 83, ISBN 1-4051-0900-9
^ a b É. Á. Csató, B. Isaksson, C Jahani. Linguistic Convergence
and Areal Diffusion: Case Studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic,
Routledge, 2004, p. 228, ISBN 0-415-30804-6.
^ Minorsky, V (2009). "Adgharbaydjan (Azarbaydjan)". In Berman, P;
Bianquis, Th; Bosworth, CE; van Donzel, E; Henrichs, WP. Encyclopedia
of Islam (2nd ed.). NL: Brill. After 907/1502, Adharbayjan became the
chielf bulwark and rallying ground of the Safawids, themselves natives
Ardabil and originally speaking the local Iranian
dialect [permanent dead link]
^ Roger M. Savory. "Safavids" in Peter Burke, Irfan Habib, Halil
İnalcık: History of Humanity-Scientific and Cultural Development:
From the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century, Taylor & Francis.
1999, p. 259.
^ E. Yarshater, "Iran", . Encyclopædia Iranica. "The origins of the
Safavids are clouded in obscurity. They may have been of Kurdish
origin (see R. Savory,
Iran Under the Safavids, 1980, p. 2; R.
Matthee, "Safavid Dynasty" at iranica.com), but for all practical
purposes they were Turkish-speaking and Turkified. "
^ John L. Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam, Oxford University
Press US, 1999. pp 364: "To support their legitimacy, the Safavid
Iran (1501-1732) devoted a cultural policy to establish
their regime as the reconstruction of the historic Iranian monarchy.
To the end, they commissioned elaborate copies of the Shahnameh, the
Iranian national epic, such as this one made for Tahmasp in the
^ Ira Marvin Lapidus, A history of Islamic Societies, Cambridge
University Press, 2002, 2nd edition. pg 445: To bolster the prestige
of the state, the
Safavid dynasty sponsored an Iran-Islamic style of
culture concentrating on court poetry, painting, and monumental
architecture that symbolized not only the Islamic credentials of the
state but also the glory of the ancient Persian traditions."
^ Colin P. Mitchell, "Ṭahmāsp I" in Encyclopædia Iranica. "Shah
Ṭahmāsp's own brother, Sām Mirzā, wrote the
Taḏkera-yetoḥfa-ye sāmi, in which he mentioned 700 poets during
the reigns of the first two Safavid rulers. Sām Mirzā himself was an
ardent poet, writing 8,000 verses and a Šāh-nāma dedicated to his
brother, Ṭahmāsp (see Sām Mirzā, ed. Homāyun-Farroḵ, 1969)."
^ See: Willem Floor, Hasan Javadi(2009), The Heavenly Rose-Garden: A
Shirvan & Daghestan by Abbas Qoli Aqa Bakikhanov, Mage
Publishers, 2009. (see Sections on Safavids quoting poems of Shah
^ Kathryn Babayan, Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes
of Early Modern Iran, Cambridge, Massachusetts ; London :
Harvard University Press, 2002. p. 143: "It is true that during their
revolutionary phase (1447-1501), Safavi guides had played on their
descent from the family of the Prophet. The hagiography of the founder
of the Safavi order, Shaykh Safi al-Din Safvat al-Safa written by Ibn
Bazzaz in 1350-was tampered with during this very phase. An initial
stage of revisions saw the transformation of Safavi identity as Sunni
Kurds into Arab blood descendants of Muhammad."
^ From Maternal side: Chatrina daughter of Theodora daughter of John
IV of Trebizond son of Alexios IV of Trebizond son of Manuel III of
Trebizond son of Alexios III of Trebizond son of Irene Palaiologina of
Trebizond. From Paternal side:
Shaykh Haydar son of Khadijeh Khatoon
daughter of Ali Beyg son of Qara Yuluk Osman son of Maria daughter of
Irene Palaiologina of Trebizond.
^ a b "The Iranian Language of Azerbaijan" E. Yarshater, Encyclopædia
^ Ehsan Yarshater, Encyclopædia Iranica, Book 1, p. 240.
^ Peter Charanis. "Review of Emile Janssens' Trébizonde en Colchide",
Speculum, Vol. 45, No. 3 (July 1970), p. 476.
^ Anthony Bryer, open citation, p. 136.
^ Virani, Shafique N. The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of
Survival, A Search for Salvation (New York: Oxford University Press),
^ The writer Ṛūmlu documented the most important of them in his
^ a b c d e "Ismail Safavi" Encyclopædia Iranica
^ a b c d V. Minorsky, "The Poetry of Shāh Ismā‘īl I", Bulletin
of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
10/4 (1942): 1006–53.
^ Richard Tapper. "
Shahsevan in Safavid Persia", Bulletin of the
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Ishaq Safi al-Din (d. 1334), seized
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Iranian lands" or the "sultan of the lands of Iran" or "the king of
kings of Iran, the lord of the Persians" or the "holders of the glory
of Jamšid and the vision of Faridun and the wisdom of Dārā." They
Shah Esmaʿil as: "the king of Persian lands and the heir to
Jamšid and Kay-ḵosrow" (Navāʾi, pp. 578, 700–2, 707). During
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