Safavi Iran 1501-1722
(Prepared by Maziar Behrooz)
Royal chapel Shaykh Lotfallah Mosque
(photo by M. Ataie)
Safavi Shahs (nine of them ruled):
1502 - 1524 : Ismail I
1524 - 1576 : Tahmasp
1576 - 1577 : Ismail II
1577 - 1587 : Mohammad Khodabandeh
1587 - 1629 : Abbas I (The Great)
1629 - 1642 : Safi I
1642 - 1667 : Abbas II
1667 - 1694 : Safi II
1694 - 1722 : Soltan Hossein
1722 - 1732 : Tahmasp II
1732 - 1736 : Abbas III
Iran before Safavid
death in 1405, his empire fell into disintegration, internal war, chaos and
shrunk. His successors were not able to assert their control over all of
his former territory. Finally, one of Timur’s sons, Shahrokh (r.1405-1447)
re-established order but only Khorasan and eastern Iran as well as Afghanistan.
during the 1400s was divided into two parts. The eastern part was ruled by
the Timurids while the western parts were shared by a number of dynasties.
Although a Moslem
ruler, Timur’s reign resembled that of a Central Asian steppe khan, with all the
military success and cruelty that came with it. Timur’s successors,
beginning with Shahrokh, were more of Moslem rulers patronizing Islamic-Iranian
art and gave birth to the rich Timurid artistic heritage which can still be seen
in Samarqand, Heart, Mashhad (Goharshad mosque) and north India.
In the late 1400s
and early 1500s the Timurid state was constantly in war with Turkic (Turkman)
tribal confederacies. It was finally attacked and displaced by a new
Turkic tribal confederacy called Uzbegs. The Uzbegs occupied Samarqand and
pushed the Timurids south into Afghanistan where Heart became their capital.
The economy of
the Timurid state was based on land grants (Iqta’). Iqta’s usually became
hereditary and created a power base for the holder which he used to challenge
the center. Hence, the post-Timur period was characteristically one of
constant bloody internal warfare between contending princes.
The factor that
aided the Timurids and allowed them to last for another 100 years after Timur
was that their external enemies were either too busy fighting the rising power
of the Ottomans or were simply not strong enough to overrun them (Uzbegs).
The Timurid state
moved gradually toward India where during the rule of Babur it captured Delhi
(1526) and established the Mughal Empire of India (which lasted until 1858).
To the west of
the Timurid state (during a time when the Ottomans were establishing themselves
in western Anatolia and the Balkans) a number of lesser states emerged.
These were mostly Turkic dynasties.
Among these were:
The Aq-qoyunlu (white Sheep) of eastern Anatolia, Iraq, and western Iran and the
Qara-qounlu (Black Sheep) of Caucasus and north western Iran. There were
also lesser Iranian dynasties in central Iran.
The origin of the
two tribal confederations is a little obscure. They probably had come to
the area of western Iran and eastern Anatolia with the waves of nomadic
migration which had accompanied Mongol and Timur’s conquests. At first the
two were not all significant, but between Timur’s death and the rise of the
Safavids and the Ottomans, they ruled the region by taking turns.
The two fought
and competed against each other while they also competed against the Ottomans.
The Qara-qoyunlu originally settled around Lake Van in eastern Anatolia.
It was subjugated by Timur but had managed to free itself after his death.
The 1440s was the
peak of Qara-qounlu power centered around city of Tabriz. The extent of its dominion
was eastern Anatolia, noth western and central Iran and Iraq. Jahanshah
(r. 1440-67) was the greatest ruler of this dynasty; he was a tolerant Shi’a
Imami (his coins contained inscriptions in adoration of Ali and the 12 Imams).
[The Kabud mosque in Tabriz was built during his time] He died in battle
against the Aq-quyunlu and after his death the power of his dynasty began to
confederation’s origin is also obscure. It had settled to the west of
Qara-quyunlu territory around the city of Amid in central Anatolia. The
dynasty always had a major problem of succession which often resulted in
internal wars. Its greatest ruler was Uzun Hasan or the Long Hasan (r.
1452-78) who defeated and killed Jahanshah in 1467 and captured Tabriz. He
was defeated by the Ottomans in 1473. He was in contact with Venice in
order to coordinate attacks on the Ottomans. His dynasty began to decline
after his defeat due to internal and external warfare.
(<--Iran before Safavi unification)
Origins of the Safavi House:
The origins of the Safavids is
not clear; what is clear is that they were an Azari (Turkic dialect of
Azarbaijan) speaking family from Ardabil, who headed a Sufi Tariqat
(brotherhood or Sufi Order), which from
early 1400s was openly propagating Shi'i doctrine.
The family found its own
tariqat (Sufi Brotherhood) under Shaykh Safi al-Din of Ardabil (1252-1304), thus the name
Ardabil became the center of the Order's activity and soon the Safavid Order found
many adherents among Turkman tribes of northern Iraq, northern Syria, eastern
and central Anatolia, and western Iran.
Tombs of Shaykh Safi and Shah Isma'il in Ardabil (photo by Hamid Rahbari)
It is not clear whether the
order was Shi'i from the beginning or not, Sunni orthodoxy was prevalent in this
period and is partially responsible for causing this obscurity. What is clear is
that from 1400s on the Order is openly propagating its own unique and Sufi
version of Shi'ism.
1252-1304: Shaykh Safi al-din
of Ardabil was the founder of the Safavi Sufi Tariqat.
1305-1391: Shaykh Sadr
al-Din Musa, second son of Safi became Master of the Safavi order; this was
while the Il-Khan state was collapsing.
1391-1427: Khajeh Ali,
son of Musa, became Master of the Safavi order; the order which had been
professing Shi'ism under cover began to overtly propagate Shi'i doctrine at this
point; Ali was a contemporary of Amir Timur Gorkan (Tamerlane) and had an audience with him.
1427-1447: Ibrahim, son
of Khajeh Ali, became Master of the Safavi order.
Under a descendant of Safi,
named Shaykh Janid (1447-1460), a new chapter in the Order's life began:
the Safavids began to put claim to political power; Janid, his son and grandson
were killed in attempting to bring this goal into reality.
1447-1460: Janid, son of
Ibrahim became Master of the order; a new beginning for the order as the
Safavids began to claim political power; Janid was killed in battle.
1460-1488: Haydar, son
of Janid, became Master and was killed in battle.
1488-1494: Ali, son of Haydar,
became Master and killed in battle.
1494-1524: Isma'il, brother of
Ali, became Master at the age of seven and established the Safavid Empire.
Safavid adherence to a Sufi
version of Shi’a
Islam had the support of the Turkic tribes called the Qizilbash [literary the “Redheads” for the twelve red strips on their
turbans symbolizing their adherence to twelve Shi'i Imams]. The original seven
Qizilbash tribes were: Shamlu; Rumlu; Ustajlu; Takkalu; Zol al-Qadr;
Qajar; Afshar. The last two became ruling dynasties in
Qizilbash tribes resided mostly in Asia Minor; northern Syria, and northern
Tow portraits of Qizilbash cavalry with their distinct
head gear [twelve redish/gold strips symbolizing their
adherence to Imami (twelver) branch of Shi'a Islam]
In 1494, this task of promoting
the Safavi Order was left to
a seven year old grandson of Janid, the Master of the Safavid Order, Isma'il.
By the time he began his struggle for political power he was ten and was
destined to lead the Order to statehood and imperial power by establishing the
Safavid state of Iran in 1501 (at age fourteen), after capturing Tabriz, and
becoming the first Safavi Shah Ismai'il I.
During the earlier stage of his
life, the Safavid Order provided Isma'il with the needed protection and a small
group of advisors to help him lead the Order. He began his campaign with a
small number of followers [no more than 7000 Qizilbash] and indeed, until he
gave battle to the Ottomans, he won all his battles with inferior numbers.
(1487-1524) was fourteen when he
captured Tabriz; for support, he counted on the fanatical support of the
Qizilbash tribes who supported him as their religious leader and Sufi Master.
Once in Tabriz, against all
advice, Isma'il proclaimed Shi'a Twelver faith as the official state religion;
at this point the majority of Iran’s population was Sunni. There were strong
Shi'i centers around Shi'i shrines (notably in southern Iraq, Qum and Mashhad)
but these resembled small islands. For example, two third of Tabriz's 200,000 to
300,000 population was still Sunni.
At this point the young Safavid
state was still facing formidable foes and by no means secure. Nevertheless, the
14 year old Shah Isma'il, the Sufi Master, insisted on adherence to Imami
Shi'ism and asked the Qizilbash to use the sword against whoever resisted.
From the very beginning the
cursing of the first three Rashidun Caliphs was used to push for conversion; use of
force proved more effective against ordinary people as it took Isma'il ten years
to unify Iran under his rule. Resistance came from the Sunni ulama. These were
either killed or forced to flee into exile (mostly Ottoman domain).
The Safavids had a clear
territorial idea of their domain; in terms of sovereignty, Safavid absolutism
[i.e the legitimacy of the Safavid state and the extent and the depth of the shah's
claim to power] was based on three foundations, all which were laid during
Isma'il's reign but some of which became less important during the reign of
future Safavids, the three were: the notion of King as the Shadow of God (Zill
Allah), esma, and Murshed-e Kamel.
1) Safavid shahs were the head
of a Sufi order and, as such, received fanatical support from their devoted
followers who considered them Morshed-e Kamel (complete [Sufi]
master). This support was particularly intense during the reign of Isma’il.
This fanatical following
provided Isma'il with a potent military force. The Qizilbash viewed Isma'il as
almost the Mahdi himself [he never claimed this]. It joined battle crying
"there is no God but God and Isma'il in his friend". Clearly this Sufi version
of Shi'i Islam was heterodox when compared to established, ulama led, legal
minded Shi'i Islam. One can trace a clear heretical trend here. The Turkic
Qizilbash tribes provided the early Safavid state its military elite.
2) Another element in Safavid
state's legitimacy was its claim to moral and religious leadership of the
community, a sphere traditionally reserved for the Shi'i ulama.
Shi’i ulama viewed all temporal
power as inherently illegitimate. Only the governance of the Hidden Imam, the
Mahdi, who had disappeared in the year 870 C.E., was considered as legitimate.
Between the disappearance of the Imam and his return (the Greater Occultation),
the Shi’i ulama viewed themselves as the best interpreters of the divine law.
Some members of the ulama claimed esma which meant descent from the House
of the Prophet through one of the Imams. [People who have such claims carry the
title Sayyed before their names and ulama sayyeds wear a green or black
The Safavid house claimed esma
even before the time of Isma’il. It had already established its own (bogus)
genealogy connecting the Safavid family to that of the seventh Shi'i Imam [the
Turkic background of the Safavids did not seem to prevent this]. Claiming
esma was an old and powerful one, dating back to the Abbasid period, and was
used to strengthen dynastic legitimacy and rule. The Safavids made full use of
this claim in order to compete with similar claims by the ulama. Safavid claim
of esma put them at par with the ulama and helped the early Safavid state to
dominate them. [Neither the Safavid shahs nor the ulama could claim nass
(designation) which belonged to the Shi'i Imams only.
3) By claiming the title of
shah, the Safavids claimed the ancient theory of the divine right of pre-Islamic
Iranian kings; this was based on the belief that the monarch has received farr (grace) from God. [The concept of
zill allah fi al-arz
or "shadow of God on earth" or "god\king" was revived]. This pre-Islamic theory
was adapted and reinvested with its former splendor.
To solidify this claim the
legend of Shahrbanu was revived. Accordingly, she was a daughter of
Yazdegerd III the last Sasanian Shahanshah, who was captured by the Moslems
and allegedly married Imam Hosein. According to the myth, the line of Shi’I
Imam’s went through her children and that she survived the massacre of Karbala
(680) and fled to Iranian interior and was saved by the command of God.
While many Shi'i ulama dismiss
the validity of this traditional story, it played an important role in
legitimizing the Safavids; accordingly, such marriage would provide the Safavids
with a direct linkage to the Sasanian imperial House. Iran’s Persian speaking
Moslem administration played an important role in revitalization of this theory
as it provided the new state its administrative elite.
The above three elements gave a
complex outlook to the early Safavid state; though it was based on Turkic tribal
power (Qizilbash), it was held together by a mystical allegiance which at the
same time tied the state to certain urban population, notably the devotees of
the Order in Ardabil and other urban centers; this means that the early Safavid
state was not the usual tribal confederacy but a religious fraternity;
therefore, the dynasty did not merely favor Twelver Shi'ism, it seriously set
about enforcing conversion; in doing so, it broke-up or weakened major sections
of the old local ruling elements by attacking their financial bases, and helped
establish new ruling elements; Hence a reshuffling of social order occurred as
the Safavid state emerged and expanded.
Shah Isma'il's Wars:
1501: Defeat of Alvand the
Aq-qoyunlu and conquest of Azarbaijan.
1503: Conquest of Shiraz and
1504: Conquest of Mazandaran
and Gurgan; Yazd and central Iran.
1508: Conquest of Baghdad,
Diyar Bakr and Iraq.
1509: Consolidation of Safavid
power in Darband, Shiravan, Shamakhi.
1510: Consolidation of Safavid
power in all of Iran except Khorasan.
It took 10 years for the
Safavid state, under Isma'il, to unify Iran and the surrounding lands; after
this, Isma'il faced two major enemies, the Uzbeg confederacy to the east and the
rising Ottomans to the west. Both powers were Sunni and considered the Shi'i
Uzbegs: by the 1300s,
the steppe Turkic nomadic tribes of north and north-east Caspian sea were known
as the Uzbegs to Moslem writers [this is the area where Qazaghestan (Kazakhistan)
stands today]; these tribes were subdued by Timur in the late 1300s; after
Timur's death, the Uzbegs began to grow in power under Shaybani Khans; from 1428
on, under Khan Abul Khayr, some Uzbeg tribes managed to unite and started to
attack the Timurid state in Transoxania and Khorasan; by the 1500s, under
Mohammad Khan Shaybani, the Uzbegs were pushing the Timurids out of Khorasan; by
1509, they had captured all of Khorasan all the way to Damghan and Kerman; this
is when their power clashed with that of the Safavids under Isma'il I.
(<--The Uzbeg confederation in 1440)
The showdown came in 1510 near
Marv; Uzbags were badly defeated, Mohammad Khan killed [in his gold sulked
skull, Isma'il drank wine and then sent it to the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II] and
withdrew to Transoxania; they continued to raid Safavid domain occasionally but
were no longer able to occupy and hold any territory south of the Oxus for any
1500: Shaybani Khan captured
Samarqand and Bukhara.
1507: Uzbegs attacked Khorasan
and captured Harat and Mashhad.
Dec. 1510: Shaybani Khan
defeated near Marv and Harat captured; some 10,000 Uzbegs killed.
Oct. 1511: Samarqand captured
by a joint Safavid-Timurid force; Khutba in the name of both and mention of
Shi’I Imamas. This was the first and last time the Safavids captured Samarqand.
1512: Babur was defeated and
Samarqand recaptured by the Uzbegs.
Shah Isma'il I (Center right) leading his Qizilbash cavalry in
battle against Uzbeg Khan Mohammad Shaybani in 1510 who did
not survive the event!
Ottomans: the Uzbeg
Khan's skull was a warning by Isma'il to the Ottoman Sultan, who by 1512 was
Selim I [Grim-Abus]; at this point, many Qizilbash tribes lived in or near
Ottoman boarders [north Syria; north Iraq and eastern Anatolia, all contested
territories]; with Isma'il's encouragement, these tribes began to revolt in
1511 causing much hardship and damaged to the Ottoman state; this is when Selim
decided to put an end, once and for all, to Safavid threat and "Shi'a menace";
In 1514, the Ottoman grand army [100,000 men with artillery, mortars and
muskets; 90,000 cavalry and 10,000 Janissary] moved toward the Safavid power and
met the Safavid force of 40,000 Qizilbash cavalry in a place called Chaldoran
[two hundred kilometers to the north-west of Tabriz near the border of modern Turkey]; on
his way, Selim massacred any Qizilbash tribe that he could get his hand on, so
that his rear could be secured; the Safavids were aware of fire arms but did not
use them in any effective way; they used canons as siege weapons and viewed use
of fire arms as unmanly [Mamluks made the same mistake]; Safavids lost the
Tahmasp I: 1524-76
1524-1576: Shah Tahmasp, son
1576-77: Isma'il II,
assassinated by the Qizilbash; Qizilbash intrigue and foreign intervention began
to weaken the Safavid state.
1577-1588: Sultan Muhammad
Khodabandeh, blind older brother of Isma'il became shah.
1587-1629: Shah Abbas I [the
Great] the seven year old son of Khodabandeh became shah by the intrigue of the
a Qizilbash faction.
1629-1642: Shah Safi.
1642-1666: Abbas II, the last
able Safavid shah.
1666-1694: Shah Suleyman.
1694-1722: Shah Sultan Hosein,
the last of the Safavids.
Shah Isma'il I died in 1524,
never to lead an army into battle, he live the rest of his years drinking and
womanizing with little or no interest in the affairs of the state.
Tahmasp, Isma'il's son was his
successor; he ruled simultaneous to Sultan Suleiman Qanuni (remember first siege
of Vienna 1529); was only ten years old when became shah and his first 10 years
were very much in effective; this was the general situation of the Safavid state
from Isma'il's death to Abbas I:
The economy of the state was
agrarian and based on the Iqta system; the Iqta was given by the shah to the
Iqta holder who in return sent a small amount of the revenue to the center and
preformed some military duties; court revenue was generated from imperial land
[called Khaseh]; this made the Safavid state [at this stage] a
poor and decentralized one which added to its weakness when faced with serious
internal problems and particularly external foes [e.g. Ottomans].
The military strength of the
state was based on the Turkic Qizilbash tribal warlords who were Iqta holders
and provided the state with military tribal contingents in times of war and
maintained border and provincial security in time of peace; after Chalderan the
position of the shah lost its mystique and intense religious connotation; hence,
different Qizilbash lords began to create factions and meddling in court
politics, factionalism and fragmentation became acute particularly when the shah
was weak or a child.
The administration of the
state was in the hand of old Persian speaking elite; these were in constant
competition with the Qizilbash for influence and control; by the nature of their
job, this class favored centralization which was in conflict with the Qizilbash
tendency to have more for local leaders; the two groups rarely entered each
other's rank but the latter was usually more successful in this rivalry.
After Tahmasp took over as the
shah, and when the Caucasus was captured, a third force began to enter the
courts service; this was Christian converts from the region who began to enter
the shah's service as slaves.
Tahmasp's first ten years were
chaotic; the youth of the shah and factional competition were the major reasons
behind this; eventually, he was able to create some kind of order but was not
able to solve the problems of factionalism and lack of centralized govt or a
strong military; his long reign witnessed many wars with the Ottomans and the
Uzbegs; in order to safeguard his center, the capital was moved to Qazvin;
from 1534, the Ottoman wars began; under Sultan Suleyman a major Ottoman force
attacked and occupied Azarbaijan and Tabriz, but then pulled back to Iraq; the
Safavids, drawing on the lessons of Chalderan and lacking an efficient military
armed with effective fire arms, avoided direct confrontation but lost Iraq; Iraq
(Mesopotamia and Baghdad) [except for a brief period under Abbas I] went to the
Ottomans; Ottoman wars continued until 1555 when under the treaty of Amasiyah the gains and losses were settled and peace prevailed between
the two for the rest of Tahmasb's reign. [Safavid possessions became: Azarbaijan;
E. Armenia; E .Georgia; Ottoman possessions became: W. Armenia (e. Anatolia); Iraq
(Arab); W. Georgia.
Tahmasp made four expeditions
to the Caucasus (between 1540-41 and 1553-54); he brought the region under the
Safavid control and began bringing in the third force.
The Safavids under Tahmasp
were more successful against the Uzbegs and the Mughals; in 1528 Tahmasb
personally led his Qizilbash force into war with the Uzbegs and defeated them
near Herat [the Safavids used artillery in this war]; the Mughals were defeated
in 1530s and Qandahar was captured.
Tahmasp's death in 1576
created a crisis as his two sons contended for power; Isma'il II and Haydar
[with Tahmasp's eldest son Sultan Muhammad Khodabandeh a blind man out of
contention] each had his own Qizilbash factional support; Haydar assassinated in
1576 and Isma'il's brutal reign came to an end the next year (1578) with his
assassination; the next ten years witnessed the reign of the weak and
ineffectual blind Khodabandeh; as factionalism and chaos took over internal
politics, external enemies began to attack the Safavids; from 1578 to 1590, the
Ottomans attacked and occupied western Safavid [including Tabriz] domain while
the Uzbegs restarted their raids (at will) into Khorasan from the east; in 1587,
under the protection of a Qizilbash faction, Abbas Mirza, the young son of
Khodabandeh was brought to Qazvin and replaced his blind father.
Safavi court reception
Abbas I (Great): r.1588-1629
The general condition of the
Safavid empire was chaotic and grim by the time Abbas became shah; the Ottomans
were occupying most of the western border areas; the Uzbegs attacked Khorasan at
will; Qizilbash warlords continued to interfere in state affairs and undermine
the shah's position, at time assassinating civilian Persian speaking
administrators; state treasury was empty and officials were more concern with
their own well being than with the well being of the empire
(<--Safavi Empire of Iran 1501-1722)
Therefore, young Abbas faced
many problems on different fronts; one of his most important characteristics was
his pragmatism and he immediately put it at work: first, he set about bringing
order to internal affairs; second, to strike at the Uzbegs; third, to take care
of the Ottomans.
In order to do this he made
the painful decision of making peace with the Ottomans by officially giving them
what they had already conquered, thus securing his Western flank; hence,
Azarbaijan, North Caucasus and Georgia, Lurestan, and Kurdestan were officially
Abbas' most pressing internal
problem was the Qizilbash; these warlords had begun to directly interfere in the
affairs of the state since Isma'il death in 1524; indeed Abbas had come to
replace his father through one such interference by a Qizilbash faction
sympathetic to him; as much as Abbas wanted to punish unruly Qizilbash warlords
and curtail their power, he knew that they were the military arm of Safavid
power; although the position of the shah as Morshed-e Kamel [complete (Sufi)
master] was weakened by this time, he was still considered the ideological
leader of the Qizilbash, whether known perhaps only a small minority of the
Qizilbash still adhered to this notion.
Abbas I (the Great)
To counter the Qizilbash, Abbas
restored to utilizing the power of Christian slave converts (the third force)
who were becoming a prominent force ever since 1530s; they were used in both
civilian and military positions; new regiments were established using the third
force; this was the beginning of Abbas' standing army, loyal only to the shah
(an Ottoman concept) and itself a new concept in Iran whose rulers have usually
been supported by tribal armies.
Shah Abbas silver coins named 4 shahis
The composition of this new
standing army, as it grew in strength, was as follows: 10,000 to 15,000 slave
cavalry armed with usual cold arms; 12,000, mostly Persian speaking peasant
infantry armed with muskets and which received horses in due course; a 12000 men
division of artillery; a 3000 man slave imperial guard for the shah (which
showed the shah's distrust for the Qizilbash); all together this standing army
numbered between 40.000 and 50,000 and was supplemented by the usual [up to
40,000] Qizilbash tribal contingents at time of war.
Samples of Safavid cavalry during Abbasi period
This standing army needed to be
paid for; before Abbas, the Qizilbash warlords held iqta land and provided
military support accordingly; only a very small portion of revenue generated by
the land was directly paid to the shah; this made the imperial treasury weak and
unable to pay for a standing army.
To pay for the army, Abbas
canceled many iqtas turning them into khaseh land and putting them under his
slave administrators; this generated adequate revenue for the military and at
the same time undermined the Qizilbash power by taking away a major source of
income from them.
This policy had its benefits in
the short run; it provided for the new army; but in the long run it hurt the
Safavid state; the Qizilbash iqta holders, up to this period, were secure in
their holdings and could pass them along to their heirs; thus they tried to use
the land with as much prudence as possible; the shah's appointees, on the other
hand, did not have such motives and generally cared for keeping their well paid
imperial appointments; therefore, their prime task was to provide the annual
income demanded by the shah with little or no regard for the long term
consequences of his policies.
The prominent position of
Christian converts in Abbas' military and administration, plus the loss of iqta
holdings came at the cost of Qizilbash loss of power and influence and created
much resentment among the latter which eventually translated into weakening of
Qizilbash tribal support for the Safavid state.
With his new military and
administrative power Abbas first moved against the Qizilbash, eliminating some
of the unruly and rebellious warlords and their supporters and bringing the rest
in line; this whole process of preparing the empire to face some of its most
important external enemies took ten years.
By the end of these ten years,
Abbas was ready to move against the Uzbegs (the weaker enemy) in Khorasan and
the Mughals of north India in Afghan lands; The Uzbegs' military tactic usually
preferred not to engaged in direct military confrontation and whenever a major
Safavid force came after them, they retreated beyond Oxsus and began their raid
after the departure of the main army; but on Aug. 9th, 1598 the shah managed to
lure the Uzbeg army into giving battle near Herat; Safavid victory was decisive
and the eastern boarders were now secure. Shortly before the Uzbeg
campaign, Abbas had moved his capital from Qazvin to the strategically better
situated city of Isfahan.
Next, Abbas moved against the
Ottomans; Tabriz, the first Safavid capital, under Ottoman occupation for the
past twenty years, was captured in 1603; Iravan (Yerevan) in 1604; in 1605 a
major confrontation with a fresh Ottoman force near Tabriz in which the Ottomans
were routed; 1607 Shiravan captured, by this year Ottomans were out of mainland
Iran but the war continued; 1623 Baghdad captured and held for the next fourteen
years; Iraq came under an Iran based state for the last time; 1601 Bahrain;
1620, with help form British East Indian Company, the Portuguese were expelled
form the Island of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
Abbas' success in internal and
external affairs stabilized the Safavid empire; during his reign, the empire was
practically re-conquered and reorganized under strong central administration; the
Qizilbash loss of power meant that the Persian speaking civil administrators
gained power; they brought with them old Iranian court traditions, old Iranian
title such as Sepahsalar began to be used alongside Turkish and
Islamic titles; to the gratification of all Shi'as, Iraq was conquered from the
Ottomans and holy Shi'i shrines were returned to the believers; under Abbas a
serious attempt was made to institutionalize the Shi'i ulama and bring them
under state control; the office of Sadr (which existed since
Isma'il's time) was strengthened to manage religious
affairs of the empire and watch over the Shi'a ulama; its head was named by the shah; this attempt ultimately proved
unsuccessful as the Shi'i ulama managed to resist it and the Safavid state
proved less durable than the Ottoman state which was more successful in this
Expansion of state power and
stability translated into economic prosperity; international trade, particularly
in textile and silk, became an important part of Safavid economic life in this
period; the Safavid imperial court at Isfahan was frequented by European
travelers, ambassadors, merchants, and missionaries [the Safavid shahs were
courted to join European powers to attack the Ottomans from the east]; these
left rich accounts of Safavid life in this period; to Europeans, the Safavid
domain was a forgotten land since the disintegration of the Mongol state in the
1300s; now, with the Ottoman threat, European interest was renewed; the
Portuguese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope established a new more accessible
route to the Persian Gulf which resulted into better communication with the
Safavids and Safavid-Portuguese rivalry.
The empire's Christian and
Jewish population played a significant role in promoting trade; indeed Abbas
actively encouraged these activities; the Isfahan Christian ward of
Jolfa-ye No attests to the shah's tolerance and protection of
religious minorities in his domain; the new prosperity reflected itself in
Safavid architecture, particularly in Isfahan, the jewel of Abbas' empire and
the center of Safavid power from 1599; the city was embellished, drawing on all
the resources that the artistic flowering of the preceding three centuries had
produced; Magnificent parks, mosques, palaces, and great open squares [where
troops maneuvered or vast polo games were played] were created; to these were
added impressive hospitals and schools in the city and around the empire; even
today, the brilliance of the work done in Isfahan does not cease to delight the
imagination; indeed to this day, Isfahan's palaces and mosques are Iran's main
tourist attraction and a symbol of sound architecture and city planning under
Three view of Aliqapu Shah Abbas' main palace in Isfahan's Maydean-e Naqsh-e
Maydan Naqsh-e Jahan looking north. Aliqapu to the
left, the bazaar opposite and the royal chapel of Shaykh
Lotfallah to the right.
The Shaykh Lotfallah royal chapel (left) stands on the east of the Maydan and
Shah (center and right) located on the south of the Maydan
Another view of Aliqapu palace
Some of the key elements in Safavid decline began during Abbas' reign; land
policies has already been mentioned; another was the problem of succession: up
to Abbas' reign, Safavid princes and heirs to the throne were entrusted to a
Qizilbash amir and sent out as governors in order to gain experience and
training; this policy, however, gave influence and control to the Qizilbash amir
at the expense of central authority; the policy was changed after a rebellion by
one of Abbas' his sons; from this point on all prices were confined to the
imperial harem, [similar to the Ottoman cage system]; this policy neutralized
their immediate threat but denied future rulers of the empire adequate training
as they grew up ignorant of state affairs and susceptible to harem intrigues.
Also the standing army was an expensive venture; while it provided the empire
the necessary fire power to reassert state control, in the long run it proved to
be much burden on a state treasury which, to begin with, was much poorer that
its counterpart the Ottoman empire.
Occupation of Baghdad (1638) only 14 years after Abbas' victory and the loss of
Qandahar (1639) to the Mughals were the first signs of weakness.
Shah Safi: 1629-1642
Ineffective son of Abbas; known for drunkenness, sexual pleasure; drugs, died
at a young age.
Shah Abbas II: 1642-1666
He also had the above characteristics and died at an early age (32) like his
father; under him all remaining iqta land was turned into Khaseh; he attempted
to force 100,000 Jews to convert to Islam; they converted nominally; he
maintained the Ottoman peace and recaptured Qandahar (1648), never to return to
the Mughals; he built Pol-e Khaju and the Chehel Sotun
(Pavilion of Forty Columns)
palace in Isfahan.
Chehel Sotun palace (left) and Khaju Bridge
Shah Suleyman: 1666-1694
During his reign the decline of the Safavids accelerated; in this period and
the one following [Shah Sultan Hosein 1694-1722] the Shi'i ulama establishment
managed to assert its independence vis-a-vis the state; this is the height of
ulama power during the Safavid period; Mir Mohammad Baqer Majlesi
(d.1699) was a top member of ulama in this period; most of the major Shi'i
theological work was done during this period; as the Shi'i ulama establishment
gained more power and independence, it began to directly attack the authority of
the shah and even the Sufis, i.e. the power base of the Safavid rule; Sufis had
already weakened by this period due to the shah's distrust of them; the ulama
reclaimed their position as the only Nabi or successor to the
Mahdi; the growing power of the ulama, during the last Safavid shah, gave them
much influence and even control over the court.
Another political force which reached its height during this period was the
imperial harem; the shah's mother eunuchs and favorite wives began to play major
role in policy making and palace intrigues; these, alongside future shahs, were
raised within the confinement of the harem and had little understanding of what
was going on in the real world; under shah sultan Hosein, harem politics, ulama
influence, the shah's preoccupation with personal pleasures reached its height
and worked to de‑stabilize the empire; weaken internal security, damage trade
and add to economic problems.
Oct. 1722 Safavid downfall
April 1725 Ashraf took over from Mahmud the Afghan after the
latter's mental collapse and assassination. Mahmud killed all the Safavids
under arrest in Isfahan.
Read more on
Allan, James. Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Safavid Iran 1501-1576
Babaie, Sussan. Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran
Elgood, Cyril. Safavid Medical Practice
Floor, William. The Afghan Occupation of Safavid Persia 1721-1729
--------------- Safavid Government Institutions
Jabbari, Hooshang. Trade and Commerce between Iran and India during the Safavid
Jurdi Abisaab, Rula. Converting Persia: Religion and Power in the Safavid
Lockhart, Laurence. The fall of the Safavi Dynasty and the Afghan
Occupation of Persia
Matthee, Rudolph, The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran
Mazzaoui, Michel. Safdavid Iran and Her Neighbors
Melville, Charles. ed. Safavid Persia: the History and Politics of an
Ried, James. Tribalism and Society in Islamic Iran 1500-1629
Savory, Roger. trans. Iskandar Munshi: History of Shah Abbas the Great
---------. Iran Under the Safavids
---------. Studies on the History of Safavid Iran
Welch, Cary. Persian Painting: Five Royal Safavid Manuscripts of the
Woods, John. The Aqquyunlu: Clan Confederation, Empire