Shah Abbas and Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736)

27 May, 2016 John Flint Iran History 3740 Views 30 Shares 2 Comments
Shah Abbas and Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736)

The Safavid Dynasty was one of the most significant ruling periods of modern Iran. It became one of the greatest Persian empires after the Arab Muslim conquests from the 7th Century.


Although initially from the Azerbaijan region around Ardabil, the Safavids managed to win power across Persia after nearly a century of turmoil. A year after his victory in Tabriz, Ismāil conquered most of Persia and united the lands. Soon afterwards the new Safavid Empire rapidly conquered the region in all directions: including Armenia, Azerbaijan, parts of Georgia, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Kuwait, Syria, Dagestan, and large portions of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Anatolia. This laid the foundation for its multi-ethnic unification.


History of Iran: Safavid Empire 1502 - 1736

Shah Ismail vanquishing the Uzbek leader Mohammad Sheybani in a battle near Merv, 1510.



During Tahmasp' reign, he carried out multiple invasions in the Caucasus and started deporting hundreds of thousands of Circassians, Georgians, and Armenians to the Persian heartlands. Tahmasp believed he could eventually gain more control of the region by fully integrating a new layer of Iranian society. Afterwards Shah Abbas I and his successors significantly expand this policy and deported around 200,000 Georgians, 300,000 Armenians, and 100,000-150,000 Circassians to Iran. This completed the new layer in Iranian society, and to this day there are still many blonde caucasian people scattered throughout Iran.


Iranian Georgians

Safavids with notable Geogians of Iran.





Although the Safavid Dynasty has its origins in the Safaviyya Sufi order, the Shi'a School of Islam was established as the official religion of their empire. This marked one of the most important turning points in Muslim history. The Safavid Iran was also one of the Islamic "gunpowder empires", along with its rivals of the Ottoman Empire and Mongol Empire.



Shah Mosque. Painting by the French architect, Pascal Coste, visiting Persia in 1841.



With the successful cultural order that followed, Caucasian villagers were spread throughout the lands and placed in useful positions in the empire. This included in the harem, military, craftsmen, and farming. The usage of it's cultured labour force remained until the fall of the Qajar Dynasty several centuries later.


Shah Abbas I the Great (1587–1629) came to power in 1587 aged 16. He first fought the Uzbeks, recapturing Herat and Mashhad in 1598. Then he turned against the Ottomans (arch rivals) and recaptured Baghdad, the Caucasian provinces and beyond by 1618. He also used his new force to dislodge the Portuguese from Bahrain (1602) and Hormuz (1622) with aid of the English Navy in the Persian Gulf. This helped develope the civilisation along the Persian Gulf including Bandar Abbas (Abbas Port) and the great pearl trade that followed. He expanded commercial links with the Dutch East India Company and established firm links with European royalty.



Shah Abbas II receives Nader Mohammad Khan of Turkistan 1640.



The Safavid dynasty had already established itself during Shah Ismail I, however under Abbas it really became a major world power along with its Ottoman arch rival. It also started the promotion of tourism in Iran, this included many Silk Road Caravanserais along trading routes, and other important developments that remain to this day around Esfahan.



Abbasi Zein-o Din Silk Road Caravansary near Yazd. Currently operational with beds.  



Except for Shah Abbas the Great, Shah Ismail I, Shah Tahmasp I, and Shah Abbas II, many of the Safavid rulers were ineffectual, often being more interested in their women, alcohol and other leisure activities. By the end of Abbas II' reign in 1666 the decline had already begun with repeated raids on it's borders. In 1722, Peter the Great of neighbouring Imperial Russia launched the Russo-Persian War (1722-1723), capturing many of Iran's Caucasian territories. To make things worse, at the same time around 1722 an Afghan army besieged Iran and eventually took Esfahan. Meanwhile, Persia's imperial rivals, the Ottomans and the Russians, took advantage of the chaos and seized more territory. The Treaty of Constantinople in 1724 gave the Ottomans and Russians rights over the newly conquered territory. The cycle of powerful kings and weaker kings would continue in Persia for many years to come.


Safavid empire map

The Safavid Empires gradual loss of territory.



If pictures tell a thousand words, and if you really beleive that, I recommend you visit the Chehel Sotoun Palace in Esfahan. Go visit the magnificent artwork telling the story of the Persian empire from the start of the Safavid Empire, and through many historical battles until it's end.


Chehel Sotoun Esfahan

Ceiling artworks and wall paintings of Chehel Sotoun in Isfahan.






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About Author


John Flint

Tehran Sfiran Writing Editor

I'm John, I'm based in Tehran doing freelance writing, editing and marketing.

Jason — May 27, 2016

Great story and photos, I can't wait to visit again.

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