Abbas the Great
gigatos | January 20, 2022
Abbas I Hearing ((27 January 1571, Herat – 19 January 1629, Qazvin) – Shah of Persia of the Safavid dynasty, who ruled in 1588-1629.
A great reformer and military commander, Abbas carried out administrative, political, military and economic reforms, fundamentally changing the state structure, created a regular army and waged successful wars with the Turks and Uzbeks, recapturing previously lost territories, in fact restoring the virtually ruined Safavid state he inherited, turning it into a centralized absolutist monarchy. Under Abbas, the Safavid Empire reached its greatest prosperity and power, stretching from the Tigris River in the west to the city of Kandahar in the east.
Abbas encouraged the construction of roads, bridges, canals, cared for the decoration of cities and the development of carpet-making. Under him, the capital was moved from Qazvin to Isfahan in 1598. Although Abbas was a cruel and despotic ruler, during his lifetime his subjects began to call him the Great.
Childhood and Youth
Abbas I was born on January 27, 1571 in the Afghan city of Herat in the family of Shahinshah Muhammad Khudabende (1531-1596) and Mahdi Uli (?-1579), daughter of the hakim (governor) of Mazendaran province, Mir Abdullah Khan. At the time of Abbas”s birth, his father, Prince Muhammad Khudabende, was governor of Khorasan. He was 40 years old and the eldest son of Shah Tahmasib, but according to Shariah law he was not fit to inherit his father”s throne because an eye disease made him practically blind. The Safavid chronicler Iskander-bek Munshi describes Muhammad Khudabende as “a pious, ascetic, and meek soul.” Abbas”s mother, Khayr al-Nisa Begum, had a much stronger character than her husband, as she will soon demonstrate. She was a princess from the south Caspian region of Mazendaran, from a family that, like the Safavids, claimed descent from Shiite imams, in this case from the fourth Imam Zeynalabdin. Half of Mazendaran was ruled as a vassal of the Safavids by Khayr al-Nisa”s father Begyum until 1562, when he was assassinated and his principality taken over by his cousin who ruled the other half. Khayr al-Nisa Begum fled to the Safavid court, where Shah Tahmasib granted her asylum and later married her to Muhammad Khudabende. Meanwhile, her cousin passed away, whereupon Tahmasib again divided the principality into two parts and confirmed his cousin”s son, Mirza Khan, as governor of one part, appointing Khudabende”s eldest son, Prince Hassan, as governor of the other part. Khayr al-Nisa lived in hope of one day taking revenge on Mirza Khan. She and Muhammad Khudabende already had two sons when Abbas was born, Hasan and Hamza, and two more would be born in the future, Abu Talib and Tahmasib. When Abbas was barely 18 months old, Muhammad Khudabende quarreled with the Qizilbash warlord of Khorasan, forcing Tahmasib to transfer him to Shiraz, the capital of the southwestern province of Fars. In his place, Tahmasib initially appointed Prince Hamza, then eight years old, as the nominal governor of Herat. But Khayr al-Nisa did not wish to be separated from Hamza, who was her favorite son, and for this reason she persuaded Tahmasib to appoint Abbas instead. The fact that Abbas was still an infant was not an obstacle, for Tahmasib himself had been appointed nominal governor of Khorasan at the age of two. An emir from the dominant Ustajli tribe, Shahgulu Sultan Ustajli, was appointed as the de facto governor and guardian of Abbas.
Abbas will spend most of the next 16 years in Herat, watching and pondering how arbitrary killings will become the norm of the day and the conflict-prone Qizilbash tribes will bring the country to the brink of collapse. He will witness the murders of close family members and narrowly escape death himself only to become a puppet in the hands of ambitious Kyzylbash emirs. These events will determine his behavior after he ascends the throne. Abbas”s Kyzylbash guardians and their wives became his adoptive parents. He would never see his mother again and would only see his father after overthrowing him in a palace coup 15 years later. He became particularly attached to the second of his Kyzylbash guardians, Aligul Khan Shamli, and his wife, Jan-aga Hanim, who cared for him throughout most of his childhood and youth. Upon becoming shah, he officially expressed his love and reverence for Jan-aga Hanim by bestowing upon her the title “nənə” (“mother”) and she became the shah”s harem and the object of the shah”s special favor. From his Kyzylbash guardians, he learned the skills necessary for a warrior – the art of horseback riding, archery, and fencing. He also learned polo and hunting. Like most Shahs, he became addicted to hunting, which was then considered a form of military training. As he matured, he would also acquire a deeper understanding in the business of governing the state. A particularly interesting aspect of his training was the skills he acquired as a craftsman, which he would later use often as a means of relaxation. That he learned a craft is not unusual. In Islam, a craftsman is held in high esteem, and learning a craft was considered commendable for members of the elite. Father John Tadeusz, who spent several years in the Safavid state during the reign of Shah Abbas, wrote that “he takes pleasure in making scimitars, arquebuses, horse bridles and saddles, weaving, distilling salts, orange water and medicines, in short, if he is not a master in all the trades, he is at least partly familiar with them all. Abbas acquired all these skills from the craftsmen in the workshops that were part of the emir”s household, which provided him and his court with almost all the necessities of life and luxury.
The Qizilbash emirs, while being warriors and rulers, were also patrons of the arts. This was especially true of the second of Abbas”s guardians, Aligul Khan Shamli, who possessed a considerable library and kept talented poets, painters and calligraphers. During his stay in Herat Abbas would be trained in drawing and calligraphy and though there is no evidence that he himself had any talent in these fields, he would develop a refined taste for them which he would not deny when he came to the throne. His chief passion, however, would be architecture, and there is no doubt that it took its origin in the strong impression made on him by the architectural legacy of the Timurids, which constantly surrounded him first in Herat and then in Mashhad. The influence of the Timurids on Abbas would not be limited to architecture alone. It would also influence his vision of the legitimacy of the Safavid dynasty, which he would seek to strengthen through association with Timur himself. His intellectual training was entrusted to a learned cleric from Mashhad, Sheikh Hasan Dawud, and consisted of instruction in the Koran, Shariah, and the major teachings of Shi”a, as well as the study of some masterpieces of Persian poetry, notably the epic Shahnameh by Ferdowsi. Book learning, however, seems to have been of little appeal to Abbas during this period of his life, as it is reported that he often skipped his lessons to go hunting. By the time he was enthroned at his age, Abbas possessed no knowledge other than reading and writing skills, and acquired his knowledge later through the society of scholars and arts people. He wrote poetry in Persian and Azeri. When Abbas took over the Safavid Empire at the age of 16, the Qizilbash tribal chiefs viewed him as a puppet because the Qizilbash had great influence over the Shahs. Shah Abbas led a nomadic life, spending a third of his reign traveling, a third in his capital and a third elsewhere on vacation. Because of his nomadic life, the capital actually moved to where Abbas was.
Coming to Power
When Abbas was still a baby, a crisis broke out at the Safavid court over the question of the succession to the throne. Despite his venerable age, Tahmasib had no say over which son he wished to succeed him. This was the only hope for a tranquil transfer of power since the Safavids ruled according to the Turkic-Mongolian tribal tradition that all princes had equal rights to the throne. Since Tahmasib remained silent, two rival parties, each with its own candidate for the throne, arose in the court and began a struggle for the throne.
One of the contenders was the Shah”s third son, Prince Haydar, who considered himself the natural successor, since his father had already delegated to him many of his powers. His supporters included the ruling Ustajli tribe, who expected that under Haidar they would be able to retain their dominant position at court, and the courtiers of the Georgian gulams, since Haidar”s mother was a Georgian. A second candidate was nominated in his absence. He was Tahmasib”s second son, Prince Ismail, who had fought with distinction against the Ottomans but was then imprisoned for nearly twenty years on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the Shah. He was supported by most of the other Qizilbash tribes, who saw this as an opportunity to displace the Ustajls from their dominant position in the court and the lucrative positions associated with it. They also favored Ismail because his mother was, like themselves, a Turkoman and because he demonstrated the military qualities they valued.
In Ismail”s camp were also two influential individuals who would soon play important roles. They were the chief Tajik official, Mirza Salman Jaberi Isfahani, who would later become grand vizier, and Ismael”s clever and ambitious half-sister, Perihan Khanim. She had a strong influence on Shah Tahmasib and clearly intended to exercise the same influence on Ismael. The friction between the two factions worsened when Tahmasib became seriously ill for several months in 1574. At one point a massacre nearly broke out when thousands of their armed supporters gathered in front of the palace gates at Qazvin. Tensions subsided when the shah recovered, but even in the two years he had left, he never named his successor. He died in the early hours of May 14, 1576, at the age of 62.
The next day Prince Haydar made a hasty and ill-prepared attempt to seize power, which was largely thwarted by the cunning and duplicity of Perihan Khanum. The attempt ended in a farce – Haidar took refuge in the harem in the guise of a woman, but his opponents dragged him out of there and put him to death. It was an exceptional act of violence on the part of the Qizilbash against the Safavid prince, the favorite son of their former “mentor,” Shah Tahmasib, and the generally recognized descendant of the Shiite Imam. It led to the complete disappearance of order and law and order in Qazvin. Undisciplined bands of Qizilbash roamed the streets, killing and looting, riots broke out and barricades were erected as local bandits took control of various quarters of the city. This marked the beginning of the “second civil war,” which was only ended when Abbas came to power and broke the power of the Qizilbash.
The descent into anarchy was stopped by Perihan Khan, who took the situation under strict control, restoring public order and ensuring the ascension to the throne of her half-brother Ismail. He was released from prison and brought to Qazvin, where on 22 August 1576 he was crowned as Shah Ismail II. The Perihan Khanim expected Ismail to be only a nominal ruler while she continued to hold the levers of power in her hands. The Kyzylbashi were of the same opinion and set out to pay her honors. Ismail, however, had other plans for her. He gathered his emirs and told them that “the interference of a woman in state affairs is a humiliation for the honor of a ruler, and for men it is a heinous crime to associate with a woman from the Shah”s house of the Safavids”. This marked for the princess a temporary end to her claim to power.
Ismail”s reign was short and bloody. The long years of imprisonment had caused him to become acutely paranoid, and so he began to see enemies everywhere who were to be eliminated. He began by vengefully assassinating prominent members of the Ustajla tribe, whether or not they supported his rival, Prince Haidar. Young Abbas was directly linked to these events when a group of horsemen stormed into Herat, broke into the house of his Ustajla guardian, Shahgulu Sultan, and slaughtered him while standing unarmed. He was replaced by an emir from the Shamli tribe, Aligulu Khan Shamli. Ismail then turned his attention to his own family in order to prevent any attempt to overthrow him on this side. He ordered two of his younger brothers to be killed and a third to be blinded, thus depriving that one of the possibility of becoming a potential candidate for the throne. He also got rid of several of his cousins, but left his elder brother Mohammed Hudabende and his children intact for the time being – no doubt partly because Hudabende was already blind, but also clearly out of respect for their common mother. He also ordered the killing of several hundred followers of the Safavid Sufi order who had arrived in Qazvin from Anatolia, fearing that they might be used against him.
The growing frustration of the Qizilbash emirs was reinforced by Ismail”s attempt to soften the anti-Sunni rhetoric of Safavid Shi”ism. But they were still hesitant to speak out against the man they still regarded as their “spiritual guide. Rumors reached Ismail, however, that they were plotting to replace him with Hudabende”s eldest son, Prince Hassan, after which he broke the taboo imposed on him not to touch the Hudabende family, and Hassan was strangled by a noose in Tehran by the Shah”s guards. In the fall of 1577, after his son was born, Ismail gave orders to destroy the rest of the family. They were not carried out – for which Abbas will always be grateful to his guardian Aligul Khan Shamli – and on the morning of November 25, 1577, Ismail was found dead in his bed from an apparent overdose of opium and Indian hashish, although some suspected that he had been sent on the orders of Perihan Khanim.
The Tajik official Mirza Salman Jaberi Isfahani, appointed by Ismail as grand vizier, quickly sprang into action to prevent the Qizilbash rivalry from descending into violence. He persuaded the emirs to swear an oath of friendship to each other and to enthrone Abbas”s father, Muhammad Khudabende. The fact that his mother was a Turkoman made his candidacy preferable to that of his sons, twelve-year-old Hamza and seven-year-old Abbas, who were potential alternatives but whose mother was Persian. Perihan Khanim was confident that she would succeed in manipulating the weak-willed Khudabendeh, and once again tried to seize power. But she had to reckon with his wife and Abbas”s mother, Kheirannisa Begum, who was now known by the title Mahdi Ullah (“sublime cradle”), often bestowed on shah”s wives. This determined woman was more than willing to compensate for her husband”s shortcomings, and once this became clear, the princess”s support began to wane. One of the first to leave her was Mirza Salman, who had a keen sense of where the wind was blowing at the moment. He joined Mahdi Ullah and Sultan Muhammad Shah, as Muhammad Khudabende was now called, in Shiraz and warned them that they could not rule as long as Perihan Khanim was alive. The Qizilbash emirs also began to leave Qazvin, ignoring the frantic orders of the princess to stay. More and more of them came out to greet the new Shah and Mahdi Ullah as they advanced toward the capital, which they entered on February 11, 1578. Mahdi Ullah immediately massacred her rival, who was removed from the Shah”s harem and strangled. The emir of Qizilbash, who was present, later recalled that the princess”s head was displayed at the city gate, “covered with blood and disheveled, planted on the point of a spear, thus exposed to public view – a very sad and horrible sight”. The infant son of Shah Ismail II was also killed.
The emirs were ready for Mahdi Ullah to have considerable influence, but they were not at all pleased that she took full control of the state and began to make all decisions herself, even in military matters. For her part, she had a very low opinion of them, which she did not even try to hide. All her efforts were concentrated on ensuring the succession to the throne of her eldest still living son, Prince Hamza, who was then 12 or 13 years old. She managed to get him appointed vakil, or viceroy. Hamza soon overshadowed his father to such an extent that some foreign observers thought he was the shah.
The fragmentation and bloodshed at the Safavid court inspired revolts in various regions of the country, and the old enmity among the Qizilbashas flared up with renewed vigor. The center of the unrest was Khorasan, where battles broke out between Aligulu Khan in Herat and his subordinate in Mashhad, Murtazagulu Khan Turkman. Mahdi Ullah feared that Aligulu Khan was preparing to use Prince Abbas in an attempt to seize power, and tried in vain to get the prince sent to Qazvin.
The weak position of the country became an invitation ticket for the old enemies of the Safavids, the Sheibanids and the Ottomans. The Uzbek raid on Khorasan was repelled, but the Ottomans, with the help of their vassals, the Crimean Tatars, occupied part of the Safavid territory in the Caucasus, occupying Eastern Georgia and Shirvan. A new phase of the Ottoman-Sefavid wars began, which would last 12 years.
The Safavid forces suffered a series of defeats before Mahdi Ullah launched a counteroffensive. Together with Prince Hamza and Grand Vizier Mirza Salman, she led the Qizilbash army north to confront the Ottoman and Tatar forces in Shirvan. But her attempt to command the campaign drew the ire of the Qizilbash emirs. Being a strong and determined individual, she wanted the Qizilbash forces to keep advancing. Having won a considerable victory and captured the Tatar commander Adil Girei, who was the brother of the Tatar khan, she urged the emirs to pursue the Ottomans, who had taken refuge in the fortress of Derbent on the Caspian Sea. They refused to do so and were supported by Mirza Salman, who apparently realized that Mahdi Ullah had begun to over-exploit her good fortune. After she berated the emirs in a highly emotional war council, the campaign was aborted, and an enraged Mahdi Ullah returned to Qazvin and the army followed her.
Many of the Qizilbash emirs began to view the Shah”s consort as a direct threat to their interests. They also observed with growing displeasure the favor she generally showed toward Persians, and especially toward natives of her native province of Mazendaran, many of whom had obtained lucrative positions in the government. Mahdi Ullah further restored the Kyzylbas against herself by her treatment of the vassal ruler of half Mazendaran, Mirza Khan, to whom she longed for revenge for the murder of her father and for her own exile. She sent an army on Mirza Khan under the command of a senior Qizilbash emir, who persuaded him to surrender on condition that he should live. But Mahdi Ulya insisted on his execution and the distribution of his wives and children as slaves, thus insulting the sense of honor of the kyzylbash.
A number of prominent courtiers of the Qizilbash emirs decided that they had had enough, and that Mahd-i Ulya must go. Mirza Salman and his usual opportunism joined them. In order to lead their soldiers, they circulated among them an appeal to the effect that the Shah was obliged not to hand over the reins to a woman. Mahdi Ullah was aware of what was going on and tried to sow enmity among the Qizilbash.
By the end of 1579, a delegation of Qizilbash handed an ultimatum to Sultan Mohammed Shah in the presence of his wife. “Your Majesty is well aware,” they declared, “that women are famous for their lack of intelligence, weak in reasoning, and extremely stubborn.” They accused Mahdi Ullah of seeking to humiliate and degrade the Kyzylbash and demanded her removal from power. Otherwise, they warned, riots would ensue. The Shah mildly rebuked the emirs, but was willing to listen to them, but Mahdi Ullia was against it. In a rage she showered them with words of contempt and declared that she was not going to change her behavior.
That same night the emirs decided to kill her. To justify this, they made a new accusation-that she had been in a love affair with Adil Girei, the brother of the Tatar khan. Mahdi Ullah and Prince Hamza treated him well in the hope of dissuading the Tartars from their alliance with the Ottomans. At one time there was even discussion of him marrying one of the Shah”s daughters. A number of emirs, accompanied by their soldiers, stormed in and hacked him to death with their swords, “cutting off his genitals first and slapping them on his mouth in an extremely barbaric and filthy manner.” Then they went to the Shah and demanded the execution of Mahdi Uliya. In vain he pleaded with them, offering to send her back to Mazendaran or into exile in the Shiite holy city of Qom, and even to abdicate the throne. The emirs were relentless. They broke into the harem and strangled both Mahdi Ullah and her mother, who was also blamed for breaking the promise of inviolability to Mirza Khan.
The next day, everyone associated with Mahdi Uliya became a target for the Kyzylbash mobs. Their houses were attacked and looted, and some of them were killed. Mazendarans and Persian officials were the object of particular fury of the Qizilbash. The Tajik vizier Mirza Salman did not escape this fate, despite his opportunistic abandonment of the Mahdi Ulia. Like a number of other prominent figures, he was forced to take refuge with an emir friend. The turmoil lasted most of the week, ending only after the Shah”s public reconciliation with the emirs. Pious and weak, Sultan Muhammad the Shah declared that it was God”s will that his wife be murdered. For their part, the emirs reaffirmed their oath and recognized Prince Hamza as heir to the throne. But the prince himself was skeptical and determined to punish his mother”s murderers.
Ottoman and Tatar troops were still in Shirvan, where the Tatar khan Mohammed Giray, enraged by the murder of his brother, defeated the army of the Safavid governor and devastated the province. Azerbaijan and its capital Tabriz were again under threat. Grand Vizier Mirza Salman led an army into eastern Georgia in an attempt to strengthen the Safavid position there. However, Sultan Muhammad Shah”s ability to resist the Ottomans was undermined by the frequent refusal of many of the Qizilbash emirs to provide their troops at the call of the Shah. This represented a complete breakdown of the system in which lands were allocated to emirs in exchange for military service.
The Qizilbash emirs began to set the tone, as they had done in the early years of Shah Tahmasib, and demonstrated that they had not at all lost their capacity for disruptive rivalry. Emirs from the Turkman and Tekeli tribes came together in a struggle for supremacy with their rivals from the Shamlu and Ustajlu tribes. The conflict was most intense at the court in Qazvin and in Khorasan, where Herat”s governor Aligulu Khan Shamlu and his main ally Murshidgulu Khan Ustajlu were at war with Murtazagulu Khan Pornak, the Turkman governor of Mashhad, for some time.
Finally, the Turkman and Tekeli tribes gained the upper hand in the court. In the course of this struggle, several Shamlins, including Aligulu Khan Shamlu”s father and mother, were killed. The latter reacted exactly as Mahdi Ullah had feared – making his ward, Prince Abbas, the central figure of the revolt in Khorasan by proclaiming him shah. Grand Vizier Mirza Salman persuaded Sultan Muhammad Shah to launch a punitive campaign to suppress the rebellion. He had a personal interest in this because he had tied his fate to Abbas”s older brother, Prince Hamza. He managed to get his son appointed vizier of Hamza and also made his biggest move, arranging for his daughter to marry the prince.
The campaign began despite the discontent of many emirs, who resented the growing influence of Mirza Salman and his disposition of both military and civil affairs. The emirs also attached great importance to symbols of their superior status, and their resentment increased when the shah relieved his Tajik grand vizier of the obligation to stand in their presence and granted him a rank equivalent to that of the provincial governor of Qizilbash. For his part, Mirza Salman considered the Emirs a threat to the state and expressed his opinion to the Shah. The course of the campaign in Khorasan further intensified these tensions. It resulted in sluggishly conducted sieges by the emirs. After the initial defeat, Aligulu Khan locked himself in the citadel of Herat with Prince Abbas, while his accomplice Murshidgulu Khan Ustajlu endured an easy six-month siege at Torbat-e Heydariya, after which he negotiated terms of surrender on which he was forgiven.
The Grand Vizier”s hope for a close connection with the Shah”s Safavid house was in vain. In spite of the fact that Mirza Salman defended the interests of the crown against the centrifugal tendencies of the Qizilbash, the Shah and Prince Hamza were too frightened of the Emirs to try to protect him. Receiving new assurances of loyalty from the emirs, they abandoned him to his fate. He was arrested with the confiscation of all his property and then put to death. On top of humiliating the Grand Vizier, Prince Hamza divorced his daughter.
With the removal of Mirza Salman, the attempt to restore the power of the crown in Khorasan lost all impetus. The situation in the northwest of the state, where the Ottomans were again threatening Tabriz, also required immediate attention. For this reason an agreement was hastily made with Aligulu Khan and the campaign was curtailed. Nothing was demanded of the former rebel except a repeat of the oath and recognition of Prince Hamza as heir to the throne. In exchange he retained his positions as governor of Khorasan and guardian of Prince Abbas. He even received a reward from the Shah, whom he persuaded to remove his old enemy, Murtazagulu Khan Turkman, from his position as governor of Mashhad, and to appoint his friend, an emir from the Ustajla tribe, in his place. According to Iskander-bek Munshi, many concluded from this that the future lay with Prince Abbas.
Meanwhile, the Ottomans rejected the Safavid peace offer and a large Ottoman army was put in readiness to capture Tabriz. Prince Hamza, who was now shah in everything but title, completely eclipsing his incapable father, rushed west in a desperate attempt to save the former capital of the Safavids, but his efforts were thwarted by the insubordination and disunity of the Qizilbash tribes. In vain he urged the emirs to rally around him as “faithful Sufis of the House of the Safavids.” The Shamli and Ustajli emirs supported the prince, but for the same reason their Turkmans and Tekeli rivals refused to render any assistance. Tabriz was captured by the Ottomans, and although they withdrew most of their troops forty days later, after Hamza”s counterattacks and the death of their commander, they left a strong garrison in the citadel which Hamza was unable to drive out.
In the course of these events Hamza very unwisely stirred up the discontent of the emirs of Turkman and Tekeli. He imprisoned the governor-general of Azerbaijan, Emir Khan, apparently over his attempt to obstruct the search for those involved in the murder of his mother Mahdi Uli. Emir Khan was the leading emir of the Turkman tribe, which was used to treating Azerbaijan as its fiefdom. Other emirs from the Turkman tribe were enraged not only by his imprisonment but also by his replacement by the Ustajli. The Turkmans and their Tekeli allies began mobilizing their forces. Encouraged by the Ustajli and Shamli emirs in his entourage, Hamza responded by executing Emir Khan. This led to a renewal of the conflict. In the spring of 1585, the Turkman and Tekeli emirs moved on Tabriz, where Hamza was besieging the citadel held by the Ottoman garrison. When they reached the Shah”s camp, they stormed into it and demanded the removal of the more powerful Shamla and Ustajla emirs, including the new Ustajla governor of Azerbaijan. They then seized the Shah”s youngest son, ten-year-old Prince Tahmasib, and brought him to the capital, Qazvin, where they proclaimed him heir to the throne in place of Prince Hamza.
Hamza defeated the rebels the following spring and imprisoned his younger brother Tahmasib in the fortress of Alamut, in the Alburz mountains north of Qazvin. However, all his hopes of driving the Ottomans out of Tabriz now dissipated. After another failed assault on the citadel, the approach of a new Ottoman army forced him to lift the siege. Despite opposition from the Qizilbash emirs, he responded positively to a peace proposal from the new Ottoman commander, Ferhat Pasha, even agreeing to send his youngest son, Prince Haydar, to the Ottoman court as a hostage.
A little later, however, Hamza was murdered. One night in early December 1586, as he lay drunk in his tent, his barber snuck up on him and slit his throat “with all his barber skills. The barber fled to the tent of a prominent Shamla emir, but was arrested and brought before the Shah. He said that others had forced him to do it, but he was silenced forever before he could tell everything. According to one version, the emir of the shamla, at whose house he had taken refuge, stabbed him in the mouth with a dagger. According to another, “a large needle was put through his mouth in order to prevent him from making insane accusations against the faithful servants of the throne.” Be that as it may, he was quickly disposed of. Court emirs from the Shamla and Ustajla tribes are believed to have been behind the assassination, although their motives remain unclear.
In any case, these same emirs forced Sultan Muhammad Shah to act against his will and appoint his youngest son, Prince Abu Talib, as heir to the throne, bypassing his eldest surviving son, Prince Abbas. But the emirs who controlled the Shah and the central government soon quarreled among themselves, exacerbating the anarchy and leading to widespread rebellion.
Meanwhile, in Khorasan there was a new shah”s enthroned governor. Murshidgulu Khan Ustajli managed to oust the new governor of Mashhad and took the post. Gathering the Ustajli and other emirs around him, he began a conflict with his former ally, Aligulu Khan Shamli, the governor-general of Khorasan and the guardian of Prince Abbas. In the battle that ensued between them, Murshidgulu Khan managed to capture Prince Abbas and take him to Mashhad. At this point, already severely weakened by internal turmoil and the Ottoman invasion of its northwestern territories, the Safavids received another heavy blow from the east. The new leader of the Uzbeks, Abdullah Khan, again united the Uzbek clans and by December 1587 had invaded Khorasan, besieging Herat and threatening to occupy the entire province. He was instigated to do this by the Ottomans, whose conquest of Shirvan and much of Azerbaijan enabled them to establish a fleet on the Caspian Sea and for the first time in history to make direct contact with their Uzbek allies. The Safavids were in real danger of being crushed between two Sunni millstones.
The Shamli and Ustajli and the Qizilbash party that dominated the court were camped with Sultan Muhammad Shah and Prince Abu Talib about 200 miles away, on the outskirts of the Shiite holy city of Qom. As divided as ever, they had no choice but to accept what had happened as a fait accompli. First 1-2 emirs went to Qazvin to express their loyalty to the new ruler, then others, and soon their army quickly disintegrated. Iskander-bek Munshi writes:
“Soldiers of all ranks, no longer obeying anyone”s orders, began to leave. Even the workers of the shah”s workshops left their belongings and went away. The men of the shah”s orchestra left the camp with their trumpets and drums and began to play fanfares for Prince Abbas upon his arrival in Qazvin. On the day the camp was rolled up and they headed for the city, only a handful of servants, stirrup-holders, and groomsmen were left to serve the shah and Prince Abu Talib.”
It is reported that the blind old shah was “grieved at the harsh treatment of fate” and wished only one thing – to end his days in peace. On October 1, 1587, at a ceremony held in the palace he abdicated and placed the crown on the head of his deposed seventeen-year-old son, who ascended the throne under the name of Shah Abbas I. The now former shah and all the other princes were placed under detention. Abbas was merciless to those emirs who had supported his younger brother Abu Talib and whom he blamed for the murder of Prince Hamza. He ordered them disarmed and brought one by one into the reception hall where they were killed, whereupon “their twenty-two severed heads, set on the points of spears, were displayed to the public from the palace windows, a terrible sight that struck fear into the hearts of the most daring and presumptuous.” Abbas rewarded the emirs who supported him by appointing them to positions in the court and provinces. Murshidgulu Khanu, to whom Abbas owed his accession to the throne, was given the principal office of vakil or vice-rule.
Shah Abbas I did not limit himself to bringing under control the state-forming element, the Qizilbash. He also put an end to the local feudal rulers of Gilan, Mazendaran, Sistan, Lar and Luristan and strengthened the power of the Safavids in these areas. He even resettled the Turkic population in some of them. The main language of the court of Abbas I remained his native Azerbaijani. During the period of Abbas I the eshikagasibashi (keeper of the palace) were the following people:
The monopoly of the Kyzylbash tribes on military power was broken by weakening the direct connection between the Kyzylbash chiefs and their tribesmen. This was accomplished by removing the Kyzylbash chiefs from their traditional loyalties and appointing them as governors in other provinces. In addition, captured or purchased slaves (gulams) were trained to serve both as a counterbalancing military force and to serve the Shah in governing the country. The shift in power did not mean that the Qizilbash elite were forced out of power. However, it did mean that they lost their monopoly on power and their oligopoly in military affairs, as they were then forced to share power with the gulams. The leader of the Shah”s troops, the gorchubashi, became the leader of all the Qizilbash troops. Although he became the most powerful military leader, his power was limited to that of the gullar-agasi, the commander of the gulams. The latter also sometimes simultaneously held other important posts in the central government, such as the post of tufyangchi agasa and divan-begi. The first post was traditionally held by a Tajik, the second by a Kyzylbash. However, the gulams did not have exclusive rights to any of these three positions, as throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Kyzylbash emirs were also appointed to these positions. However, there were other claimants to power. As a result of the shift in power, the Tajiks who traditionally occupied mostly the highest managerial positions also lost their monopoly on these positions. This applied not only to positions such as “nazir-i buyutat” or governor of the shah”s palace, but also to lower managerial posts. The greatest loss for the Tajiks was the loss of their monopoly on the post of vizier, to which the Qizilbash officials had been almost continuously appointed since 1669 until the end of the regime.
Abbas was the most successful ruler of the Safavids. He was distinguished by his energetic activity and famous political sagacity, contributed to the economic growth of the country, built roads and bridges, cared for the decoration of cities, especially Isfahan, where he moved his residence from Qazvin in 1598, and tried to revive trade with India and Europe. Having moved to Isfahan, the troops loyal to Shah Abbas (among them mainly the Shahseven) followed him. As early as 1603, Abbas”s Qizilbash troops were in Isfahan. In addition to military reform, Abbas attempted a monetary reform because during the 11 years of powerlessness in Iran a huge amount of currency that had no fixed exchange rate began to circulate in the country. Abbas introduced the Abbasi coin, which was equal to one miscal. During the reign of Shah Abbas, Ganja was rebuilt.
Shah Abbas greatly increased the number of equestrians in his personal guard from among the Qizilbash. These men differed from their tribesmen in their absolute loyalty to the shah: they left their tribal lands, came to the court, and became members of the imperial court. During the reign of Abbas, their number rose to 10,000 – 15,000, and by the end of his reign their highest ranks occupied the posts of provincial governors and their commander, the gorchubashi, turned into the most important functionary of the state. After assuming the reins of government, Shah Abbas I immediately created the corps of gulams, strengthened the corps of tyufengchies and topchies and established discipline in the ranks of kizilbash. He created a corps of court slaves, which consisted of the Armenians, Georgians and Circassians (captured during the fierce wars in Caucasus in 1603-1604 and 1616) who converted to Shiite Islam. By strengthening the practice of appointing gulams to high positions, he gave them a more prominent place in the military ranks in order to counterbalance the Kyzylbas as members of the standing army, but these slave-soldiers depended on Abbas even more than the Kyzylbas cavalry. And most of the state posts remained for the Turks. The chronicler of Shah Abbas I, Iskander Munshi, explained these changes as follows:
“Since the rivalry between the Qizilbash tribes led them to commit all sorts of abominations, and since their loyalty to the House of Safavid was weakened by internecine strife, Shah Abbas decided to allow other groups besides the Qizilbash into the army as well. He recruited a large number of Georgians, Circassians and other gulams into the army and created the position of gullar-agasi, which had not existed before during the Safavid rule. Several thousand men from the Chagatai tribe and various Arab and sedentary tribes of Khorasan, Azerbaijan and Tabaristan were accepted into the ranks of musketeers. The regiments of the Musketeers enlisted all the dregs of society from all the provinces – strong, hardy men who were unemployed and robbed the lower classes. By this method, the lower classes were relieved of their iniquities, and the recruits atoned for their past sins by serving the army in useful service. All of these men were placed on the gulam lists. No doubt they were an important element in Abbas”s conquests, and their enlistment was of great benefit.
Most of the guilds, musketeers, and cannoneers were not permanently stationed in the capital and were not constantly under arms. They were scattered throughout the provinces, and it took several months to assemble them for a campaign. The creation of this much larger standing army did not mean that the Kyzylbash tribal troops could now be completely disbanded. Even after the reform, they still made up the largest part – about half – of the army, as well as its most effective fighting force. But Abbas was no longer entirely dependent on them.
Having created a regular army, Abbas faced the problem of paying salaries. Before Shah Abbas I, the Qizilbash were the overwhelming majority of the available troops. Governance of the provinces was assigned to the Kyzylbash chiefs in the form of grants known as tiyuli. Provincial governors were allowed to retain most of the provincial revenues on the condition that they maintained, and sent at the first request of the Shah, a certain number of troops. Such provinces were called mamalik or state provinces; only a small part of the income from such provinces reached the shah, as a rule in the form of tributes and taxes. For this reason the amount of cash in the treasury was small and totally insufficient to maintain a regular army of about 40,000 men. The main source of income for the shah was the “crown lands,” since the revenues from such provinces were collected by the shah”s governors. The solution to the problem undertaken by Shah Abbas was the conversion of a number of “mamalik” or “state” provinces to the category of “khassa” or “crown lands. Shah provinces were governed by Shah inspectors or intendants, and these officials were often appointed from among the gulams. This policy simultaneously reduced the number of powerful Qizilbash provincial governors, who acted like appanage princes in the territories under their jurisdiction, and increased the prestige of the gulams. For this reason, this policy seemed doubly beneficial to Abbas and solved his problems in the short term. In the long run, however, it met with serious objections. First, in the case of the old-fashioned Qizilbash provincial governors, personal interests prevented extortion; if they tried to charge more than they should, in the form of taxes and various additional extortions, they damaged the provincial economy, and the law of diminishing returns came into play. In the Hassa provinces, on the other hand, the Shah”s intendants had only one interest – to maintain their position by transferring as much as possible of the taxation due to the treasury; since they had no legitimate interest in those provinces, they did not mind that the tax burden would hit the well-being of those provinces. Second, in the long run, this policy led to the weakening of the state militarily, especially during the rule of Abbas”s successors, Shah Sefi and Shah Abbas II, who reinforced the conversion of “mamalik” provinces to “khassa” provinces. Eventually, even the border provinces were transferred to the khassa category, except during periods of war, when qizilbash governors were reappointed to them. The fact that kyzylbash governors were reappointed in times of crisis was in itself an acknowledgement that they were more suitable for their defense. It seems that a Kyzylbash chief who was given a province as a fiefdom was more interested in protecting it than an appointee from the state who had no long-term obligations to it. In addition, the Gulyam troops, while quite commendable in campaigns against the Ottomans and others, and who produced some outstanding commanders, ultimately lacked the indomitable military spirit based on tribal caste, which made them the only troops in the Middle East to be reluctantly admired by the Ottoman janissaries. The kyzylbashi despised the gulams, whom they nicknamed “gara oglu,” or literally “sons of black slaves. Thus, in the long run, the policy of transferring the “state” provinces to the “crown lands” improved the economic condition of the country and weakened it militarily.
After Abbas had taken over part of Armenia and Georgia as well as Shirvan in 1601, he successfully repelled the repeated Ottoman attacks on the cities of Erivan and Tabriz almost annually, sometimes invaded into the heart of the Ottoman possessions in Asia Minor and forced the Georgian kingdoms of Kakheti and Kartli to recognize the Safavid supreme power over them in 1613. As a result of his brilliant successes in the first war with the Ottoman Empire (1603-1612), Shah Abbas had conquered not only most of Transcaucasia but had also extended his influence to the South Caucasus. In 1602, when the eastern front had temporarily stabilized and internal order was restored, the Shah”s thoughts again turned to the return of Azerbaijan and Shirvan, two of the most important provinces conquered by the Ottomans. Whenever he discussed with his advisers the possibility of regaining his lost territories, they reminded him of the power of the Ottoman sultans and the numerical superiority of their armies. Abbas”s first step was to destroy the fortress of Nihavand, which had been left by the Ottomans as a base for future incursions into the Safavid domain. The Shah did his best to dispel Ottoman suspicions that he was going to attack Azerbaijan by announcing that he was on his way to hunt Mazendaran. Nevertheless, rumors reached the commander of the Ottoman garrison in Tabriz, Vekil Pasha. The Shah left Isfahan on 14 September 1603 and passed through Kashan, allegedly heading for Mazendaran. From Kashan he turned to Qazvin and then passed from Qazvin to Tabriz in six days. When the Shah”s troops were about 12 miles from the city, the people of Tabriz donned their distinctive Safavid headdresses, which they had hidden during the Ottoman occupation, and rushed to greet them. When the Safavid advance party entered Tabriz, some soldiers from the Ottoman garrison left the citadel and were in the market making purchases. When they heard the cheers of the population, they rushed back to the citadel and locked the gates.
The city was a miserable sight, as the population initially fled the Ottoman occupation and the Ottomans damaged many buildings and houses. During the 20 years of Ottoman occupation, the inhabitants gradually trickled back into the city. Many of them lost all their possessions in the process, and the physical destruction still persisted. Out of every hundred houses, hardly one survived even a third of their original condition. The people of Tabriz were relentless in their vengeance. If an Ottoman warrior had previously taken a Tabriz girl into his house and had children by her, the girl”s relatives made no concessions about it, but dragged the Ottoman out and killed him.
When the Shah”s troops reached the city, the commandant of the Ottoman garrison, Ali Pasha, was outside it with 5,000 men. He headed back to Tabriz, but his detachment was defeated by the Safavid army, which finally had the numerical advantage. The Ottoman garrison in the citadel then capitulated. Many of their number took advantage of the double salaries and allowances offered them and defected to the Safavid army. From Tabriz the Shah”s army proceeded to Nakhichevan, which was taken; this forced all the Ottoman troops south of the Arax River to retreat and assemble in Erivan. The Ottoman forces in that area numbered 12,000 men, and the fortifications of Erivan, which consisted of three separate forts, represented one of the strongest defenses in the region. The three forts, supporting each other and occupied by select troops, as well as having abundant supplies of provisions, were an imposing challenge. The siege lasted through the winter of 1603-1604, but was not particularly successful because of the extreme cold; the ground was so frozen that it was impossible to dig trenches. The end of the year was approaching, but Abbas decided to continue the siege during the winter of 1603-1604, confident that the Ottomans would run out of provisions. During the winter he was joined by Allahverdi Khan, who brought with him 18,000 cavalry and came accompanied by an ambassador from the Mughal emperor Akbar. The ambassador brought with him a letter in which Akbar heartily congratulated Abbas on his victories over the Sheibanids and Ottomans as well as his internal enemies. He brought rich presents, but Abbas paid no attention to them, except for the sword, which he regarded as a good omen because it was a gift from a descendant of the great Tamerlane himself. The Mughal embassy remained in the shah”s camp until the fall of Erivan four months later, after which it was allowed to return. Abbas was very friendly, but did not treat the embassy with any special pomp. At the beginning of his reign he had sought to win favor with Akbar, but he was now in a much stronger position and resented the fact that the Mughal emperor had taken possession of Kandahar. King Alexander II of eastern Georgia also arrived in the Shah”s camp in the winter with a small army. He was an Ottoman vassal, but having been warned by Abbas to refrain from supporting him, he slaughtered the Ottoman garrison in his capital, Tiflis. To storm Erivan, Abbas brought heavy siege cannons and drove some 12,000 Armenian peasants from the surrounding countryside to build planking against the walls of the three fortresses. The harsh winter weather took many lives among the besiegers; every morning the Safavid soldiers were found frozen to death. The greatest sacrifices, however, were made by the Armenians who erected the parapet, unprotected either from the frost or from the fire from the fortress walls. When the bulwarks were erected, Abbas placed cannons and musketeers on them to conduct constant fire on the fortresses. Hunger and disease began to claim lives among the members of the Ottoman garrison, which eventually surrendered by the end of May 1604, after the Qizilbashi took one of the fortresses by night storm. The fortress finally surrendered in June 1604, and Safavid troops made several forays into Karabakh. A diversionary Ottoman attack from Baghdad was repulsed and the Ottoman commander was taken prisoner. The news that the Ottomans had begun preparations for a major counter-offensive from Istanbul led the Shah to devastate the region of Kars and Erzerum. The commander of the Ottoman army, Jigaloglu Pasha, reached the Arax River, but due to the late season retreated to Van for the winter. Orders were given for the immediate evacuation of the population from the vast area north of the Arax River, which included the three towns of Erivan, Nakhichevan and Julfa. Residents were given 48 hours to leave, or else they were forcibly dismissed. Their homes and fields were destroyed, along with any supplies that could be used by the Ottoman army. About 60,000 families were gathered together, transferred across the Arax River and then sent east along the river to various places where they settled as best they could in the middle of the harsh winter months. Many died of exhaustion, starvation and severe frost. The deportation of the Armenians shocked Robert Shirley (English), who was in the ranks of the Safavid army. In May 1605 he wrote about Abbas in a letter to his brother Anthony (Eng.):
“By all his actions he has declared to the whole world his hatred of Christians, for every day he enslaves the poor Armenians, who are daily driven like sheep to all markets, burning and destroying all churches, to the greatest dishonor of all Christians living here.”
The Shah”s reputation for marching had taken its toll, making the Ottoman army nervous about pulling too far away from its base at Van, and an entire year passed in maneuvers and counter-maneuvers. Eventually the shah sent Allahverdi Khan to Van; the commander-in-chief won several brilliant victories over both Jigaloglu and the reinforcements coming from Sivas, and Jigaloglu Pasha had to flee by boat across Lake Van to mobilize a new army. The decisive battle in this campaign took place on November 6, 1605, at Sufyan, on the outskirts of Tabriz. In this battle Abbas demonstrated his outstanding talents as a commander. Prior to the battle he did not intend to put everything into one general battle, but planned to wear down the enemy with daily but limited encounters. However, the faithful adherence to his order not to engage in battle on the part of another of his brilliant Gulam commanders, Karachagai-bek, was interpreted as a sign of weakness on the part of the Ottomans, who launched an attack that turned into a general battle, culminating in a crushing victory for the Safavids. Faced with this catastrophe, the Ottomans used a very unusual channel to try to convince the Shah to make peace. The Sultan”s mother, the Sultana, decided to find an outlet for the Shah through his aunt, Zeinab Begum (Eng.). She chose another woman, Gulsara, the wife of the Georgian king imprisoned in Istanbul – promising her that if her mission was successful, her husband would be released. Saltana wrote a letter to Zeinab Begum asking her to use her influence with the Shah to stop the war that had caused so much damage to Muslims who should not be at war with each other. Upon receiving the letter from Gulsara, Zeinab Begum promised to do everything in her power and showed it to the shah. But the reply the shah sent back was uncompromising: he would only agree to lay down his arms if, as he put it, all the lands on which Shah Ismail”s horse had set foot were returned to him. The Ottomans could not agree to such concessions. Abbas gave his army virtually no rest after the battle of Sufyan. Three months later, just after the end of winter, he laid siege to Ganja in northern Azerbaijan, taking the fortress after a six-month siege. He then moved on to Georgia, where he took possession of the main city, Tiflis. In winter 1606 he invaded Shirvan, ignoring the objections of his officers that the army had been on the march too long, that the horses of many had either fallen or been weakened by lack of forage, and that the equipment of the soldiers was in poor condition. More animals died trying to cross the floating ice floes on the Kura River, the border of Shirvan, after the Ottomans destroyed the bridge. Then the Safavid camp outside their besieged capital, Shemakha, turned into a swampy swamp because of almost incessant rains that lasted more than two months. But the key cities on the Caspian Sea – Derbent and Baku soon fell due to pro-Safevid uprisings, and in the spring of 1607 the fortress wall of Shemakha was breached by Safavid siege cannons and the city was taken by storm. With the conquest of Shirvan, Abbas regained all the territories which he had been forced to cede to the Ottomans in 1590. Abbas”s scribe and official chronicler, Iskander-bek Munshi, who accompanied Abbas on all these campaigns, compared his achievements to those of Timur, with whom Abbas himself also liked to associate, thus sharing the same source of legitimacy with the Mughal emperors. “Not since Tamerlane”s time, 250 years ago,” Iskander-bek wrote, “has any ruler kept his troops in the field for five alternating years and achieved a similar unbroken series of victories.” By 1607, less than five years after the Shah launched his counteroffensive against the Ottomans, the last Ottoman warrior was expelled from the Safavid territory defined by the Treaty of Amasi.The Ottomans were not ready to discuss a new peace agreement based on that treaty, and periodic clashes between Ottoman and Safavid troops continued for several more years. When Nasuh Pasha succeeded Murad Pasha as Ottoman commander-in-chief on the eastern front, serious peace negotiations resumed. The Safavid ambassador Ghazi Khan, who held the position of “Sadr,” was received by Sultan Ahmed I. After much discussion, the parties agreed to discuss peace on the basis of the Treaty of Amasya. In the sixty years since the conclusion of this treaty, many changes took place on the borders. For example, the Georgian province of Meskheti and the fortresses in the district of Ahiska, which had been designated as Safavid territories by the Treaty of Amasi, had been occupied by the Ottomans during that time; on the other hand, some fortresses in the regions of Arabistan and Bagdad, which had been designated as Ottoman territory, were now in Safavid hands. It was recognized that it would be difficult for both sides to surrender the territories they occupied, and for this reason it was easier for the parties to hold what was under their control at the time of the signing of the new treaty
“Murders, people dying of hunger, robberies, rapes, children strangled out of despair by their own parents, or thrown into rivers by them, or killed by Persians for lack of a good figure, or torn from their mothers” breast and thrown into the streets and great roads to become prey to wild beasts or to be trampled to death by horses and camels belonging to the army, which for a whole day walked on the corpses of men – this is a picture of this shocking means to an end; and further, how agonizing the separation of parents from their children, husbands from wives, brothers from sisters, torn from each other and sent to different provinces! So great was the number of these wretched ruined people that they were publicly sold for less than the price of an animal.”
Many of these Georgians were settled as peasant farmers in Mazendaran and other parts of the state that Abbas wanted to develop. The rest of the male deportees became slaves or gulams of the Shah or whoever bought them, while the most beautiful of the women became valuable additions to the Safavid harems. The most famous victim of Abbas”s punitive policies was the dowager queen of Georgia, Ketevan. Still an attractive woman, she was sent by her son Teymuraz to petition the Shah. Abbas demanded that she accept Islam and join his harem, and when she refused, he imprisoned her in Shiraz. She died there in 1624, still refusing to renounce her faith despite her torture, and was canonized by the Georgian church. In 1616 a large Ottoman army besieged Erivan; when the offensive failed, the Ottoman commander Mohammed Pasha again raised the question of peace negotiations. The Shah replied that he was ready to resume negotiations at any time on the basis of the agreement worked out by Nasuh Pasha and Gazi Khan and on the basis of the work of the border commission, the certified text of whose report was in the possession of both sides. The provisional peace treaty was confirmed under the same conditions at Erzerum and the Ottoman army withdrew. The peace treaty was rejected by Sultan Ahmed I, who accused Mohammed Pasha of breach of duty and removed him from office. His successor, Khalil Pasha, was ordered to prepare for an invasion of the Safavid Empire, again in cooperation with the Crimean Tatars. The Shah ordered Karachagai-bek, an Armenian gulam who had quickly risen in the Shah”s confidence after the death of Allahverdi Khan in 1613, to devastate the entire Van Erivan region through which the invading army was to pass. This action delayed the Ottoman advance, and before Khalil Pasha could pull up his main forces, the death of Sultan Ahmed I and the accession to the throne of the less militant Sultan Mustafa opened again the possibility of peace negotiations; and although peace was never concluded, there was a lull in hostilities between the parties that lasted until 1623, when Abbas, taking advantage of internal strife in the Ottoman province of Baghdad, invaded it and seized the city of Baghdad, which had been taken from Shah Tahmasib by Sultan Suleiman in 1534. After taking Baghdad in late 1624, the shah ordered the slaughter of the Armenians living in Mesopotamia. The fall of Baghdad broke the spirit of the Ottoman garrisons in Mosul, Kirkuk, and Shahrizor (all three fortresses were captured by the Safavids. The Shah visited Shiite mausoleums in Kerbala, Najaf, Qazimayn (Eng.), and Samarra. Hafiz Ahmed Pasha (Eng.) was appointed grand vizier and commander-in-chief of Ottoman troops along the Safavid border, and he was ordered to retake Baghdad. Having ordered the territory along the route of the Ottomans from Van to be cleared of any supplies, the shah strengthened the Safavid garrison in Baghdad and moved to defend it himself. Abbas”s position was complicated by setbacks in Georgia. Alerted to the new uprising being prepared there, he sent the commander-in-chief Karchagai-bek to deal with it. With him he sent a prominent Georgian convert to Islam, Murav-bek, who had experience in Georgian affairs and had become a favorite at court. However, when Karchagai-bek executed several thousand young Georgians he suspected of treason, Murav-bek sided with the rebels. He killed Karchagai-bek and the Safavid commander-in-chief in Shirvan, Yusuf-khan. At the head of the Georgian rebel army, Murav-bek defeated the Safavid forces and besieged the Georgian capital, Tiflis, as well as Ganja in neighboring Karabakh. He was joined by the Georgian prince Teimuraz, who had led the previous rebellion in 1616. Abbas turned to the commander of his select troops, the gorch, Isa Khan (Azerb.), to save the situation. He appointed him commander of all Safavid forces in Georgia and ordered his governors in the Caucasus to join him with their troops. On June 30, 1625, Isa Khan (Azerb.) faced the rebels in battle. His army was nearly defeated by a massive Georgian cavalry attack, but the arrival of Safavid troops from Azerbaijan saved the situation. The rebels were put to flight with heavy losses. Hafiz Pasha”s army reached the city in November 1625 and besieged the fortress from three sides. Ottoman fortified lines stretched along the eastern bank of the Tigris River for about four miles and one of the detachments crossed the bridge over the Tigris near Abu Hanifa”s tomb and occupied Old Baghdad. The besieging Ottoman troops were well supplied with provisions as the harvest had just been harvested. A special detachment of 1,000 Safavid volunteers slipped through the Ottoman lines with a cargo of gunpowder and lead to cast bullets for the garrison. Despite this, the Ottomans resolutely continued the siege, and the Shah”s army that came to the rescue, advancing from Harunabad (Azerb.), was delayed by numerous spilling streams. The aim of Hafiz Ahmed Pasha was to capture the city
When Abbas finally reached Baghdad, the siege was already in its seventh month. The plan of the Ottomans was not to engage the Shah, but to sit behind their lines of defense, which were protected not only by a moat, but also by lath barricades and wooden paling behind which cannons and archers were placed. By refusing to engage the shah in battle, they could continue to besiege the fortress. Abbas decided that a frontal attack on the Ottoman fortifications would be too costly and decided to try to cut the Ottomans” supply lines by both land and water. He sent one detachment to intercept Ottoman supplies by river from Diyarbekir and Mosul; another detachment crossed the Diyala River and erected a fortified camp west of the river; a third detachment crossed the Tigris River south of the city by raft and boat and established another bridgehead on the west bank. This last detachment was able to intercept Ottoman supplies from the south, from Hilla and Basra. Another detachment was sent to block the main Ottoman supply route from Aleppo through Fallujah. These decisions proved very successful and an entire caravan coming from Aleppo was intercepted. By June 1626, however, the Safavid garrison of the fortress began to run short of provisions. Under the cover of night, a desperate band of soldiers from the garrison went down the Tigris River in boats to the Shah”s camp. Here they were loaded with flour, wheat, oats, cooking fat, chicken, mutton, and other provisions, including desserts, sherbets, sugar, lollipops, and the like. This cargo was to pass through the ranks of the Ottoman troops who, as a result of their occupation of Old Baghdad, occupied both banks of the Tigris River for two miles. One part of the cargo was sent by boat, the other by camel caravan along the west bank, and the way for this caravan was cleared by a strong escort force of Safavid troops.
Re-supplying the fortress with supplies was a major setback for the Ottoman plans, and Hafiz Ahmed Pasha decided to risk a general battle with the deblocking army. The Shah”s troops drove the Ottomans back behind their lines, inflicting heavy losses. The Safavid blockade of the Ottoman supply lines began to have an effect: not only did the besiegers run out of provisions, but disease began to rage in their ranks. On July 4, 1626 Hafiz Ahmed Pasha was forced to lift the siege, dropping his cannons because of a shortage of draft animals. Several thousand sick and dying men were left behind the Ottoman lines of defense. Much like the battle of Sufyan in 1603, the lifting of the siege of Baghdad was an example of Shah Abbas” brilliant sense of tactics. A letter written by a senior Ottoman officer to a friend in Istanbul vividly demonstrates what conditions were like for the besieging Ottomans when the Safavid blockade of their supply routes began:
“Those who, being of delicate constitution, were fastidious about food, are now glad to have horse meat, too! Those refined and dainty, who thought it shameful to wear a shirt of Egyptian cotton, are now glad to wear shirts of old tent canvas, which do not cover their knees! Those self-righteous heroes who laughed in coffee-houses at the Kyzylbash because of their cowardice, now when they see the weakest of them three miles away, they compare him to Rustam, the son of Zal!”
Shah Abbas publicly mocked the Christian rulers of Europe because they either did not fight the Ottomans or constantly lost to them.
The reorganization and restructuring of the armed forces could not happen overnight, and the situation on the eastern front continued to deteriorate. The Uzbeks took the province of Sistan, south of Khorasan, which was normally protected from their attacks. Kandahar, which had been in Safavid hands intermittently since 1537, was captured by the Mughals in 1590. Abbas marched his army into Khorasan, but hesitated to give a general battle. From the beginning he proved himself to be a commander whose prudence was one of his chief distinguishing features in subsequent campaigns. It was not until 1598, ten years after his ascension to the throne, that the death of the formidable Uzbek ruler Abdullah II served to start a dynastic struggle and gave Abbas a chance in the east. He marched from Isfahan on April 9, 1598, and the Uzbeks began to leave city after city after city as he entered Khorasan. On July 29 the shah made a pilgrimage to the tomb of the eighth Shiite Imam Ali al-Rida in Mashhad. He found the tomb in bad condition. The gold and silver candelabra had been taken out of it, and of the ornaments donated to the tomb, nothing remained but the golden fence around the Imam”s tomb. Leaving Mashhad on the first of August, the shah moved on to Herat, hoping to force the Uzbeks, now under the leadership of Din Muhammad Khan, to fight. This was always going to be a difficult task. The Uzbeks preferred to avoid general battles and retreat across the Oxus into the untraceable deserts of the Transoxiana, where the regular army pursued them at their own risk. After waiting for the Shah”s regular army to retreat, they resumed their traditional method of warfare, locking the Safavid garrisons in the cities and ravaging the surrounding countryside. Abbas ordered his vanguard to retreat and spread rumors that the shah had been forced to return to the west because of the critical situation there. Din Mohammed Khan was lured out from behind the fortifications of Herat, and the Shah, after marching a ten-day distance in four and a half days, caught up with the Uzbeks in the open countryside on August 9, 1598. The horses of many of the Shah”s warriors were exhausted, and in his forced march he was so far separated from the main detachment of the army that he had no more than ten thousand soldiers with him; the Uzbeks numbered twelve thousand men. The battle was desperate, and the result was still wavering from side to side, when the Shah”s guard of 200 men saw the glare of the helmets, armor plates, and breastplates of the cavalry approaching through the thickets of reeds; it was Din Mohammed Khan himself with a thousand select soldiers, whom he held in reserve. A wave of panic ran through the detachment of the Shah”s guard. “Fight like men,” shouted the shah, “a valiant death is better than a life of shame!” A determined attack by his guards upset the ranks of the Uzbeks, and when Din Mohammed Khan was wounded by a blow of his spear, the Uzbeks began a general retreat. The Safavid troops pursued them until the horses beneath them fell from fatigue, and the Uzbeks lost four thousand men. It appears that Din Mohammed Khan, weakened by loss of blood, was attacked and killed by his own tribesmen during the retreat. With this victory at Rabat-e Pariyan, Abbas not only liberated Herat but was also able to stabilize the northeastern border with considerable success following a series of alliances with local Uzbek chiefs. This enabled him to launch a series of campaigns against the Ottomans in the west in 1602.
Portugal did everything to provoke Shah Abbas to attack Hormuz with the help of the English. Ruy Frere (port.) carried out the order to erect a fortress on Qeshm, the island which supplied food and water to Hormuz and which had been captured by the Safavids in 1614. At this point it was left unprotected. The Portuguese admiral also devastated the adjacent coast of Lara, killing all the Qizilbashis who got in his way and burning the villages where the Qizilbashis had settled after the annexation of the province by Shah Abbas. The Portuguese also burned all boats that could be used as transport. These actions appear to have received the approval of the indigenous people of Lar, who had been mistreated by the Qizilbashis and remained as attached to their former lord as they were hostile to Shah Abbas. Abbas considered this a declaration of war and ordered the governor-general of Fars, Imamgulu Khan, to resist the Portuguese. Imamgulu Khan sent an army to besiege Keshm, but was again stopped by a lack of ships. However, the Safavids knew that the East India Company fleet would return to Jask in December to pick up the annual shipment of silk. In the fall, the shah told the East India Company”s representative in Isfahan, James Monnox, that the silk would only be delivered if the company supported the campaign against the Portuguese with a fleet. Monnox”s response was positive, but he replied that he should consult the council of ships when the fleet arrived. Abbas authorized Imamgulu Khan to negotiate the terms of the agreement.
The factories of the East India Company in Surat sent a strong fleet of five ships and four boats to Jask, as they anticipated further conflict with Ruy Frere (port.) and word reached them of reinforcements being sent to him from Goa. The fleet reached Jask on December 14, where it was told to meet with Monnox and other representatives in the Safavid state at a small port lying further towards Ormuz. Monnox had the difficult task of persuading the council of ships to agree to the Shah”s wishes. It was one thing to fight the Portuguese when they tried to drive English ships out of the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean, and quite another to join with a Muslim power to attack the co-religionists, European Christians, albeit Catholics, with whom England was at peace. But Monnox was a strong-willed individual. After much debate, he finally convinced the council of ships that the future of the company in the Safavid state was threatened and that they had no choice but to agree to Shah Abbas” offer and assist him in expelling the Portuguese from Keshm and Hormuz. On January 18, Monnox and his successor Bell concluded a treaty with Imamgulu Khan, but subsequent disagreements suggest that the terms were not made sufficiently clear. In return for their assistance, the British were to receive half the spoils, half the share of all customs duties thereafter, and the right to import and export goods duty free. The Safavids also agreed to split in half all the costs of maintaining the English while in the Persian Gulf. The agreement prompted a protest from the crew of one of the English ships, the London. They declared that they had been hired to engage in trade, not war, and that an attack on the fortress of a friendly power would constitute a “rupture of peaceful relations.” Their resistance was overcome by the promise of an additional payment of one month”s wages.
The ships soon moved into action at Keshm, where Ruy Frere (port.) and a mixed garrison of Portuguese and Arabs, numbering 450 men, held out in the newly built fortress against 3,000 Kyzylbashi. The British opened a bombardment of the fortress from both sea and land, where they set up a battery of five of their largest cannons. The walls of the fortress were tenuous and were soon breached. Ruy Frere faced a mutiny of the garrison and capitulated. Many of the Portuguese captives were taken ashore to Ormuz, where they were housed in the overcrowded fortress. Others were transported to the Portuguese possessions at Muscat and Suhar on the other side of the bay. Ruy Frere himself was taken to Surat, from where he managed to escape and returned to the Persian Gulf to continue the struggle, though without much success. Most of the Arab captives, former subjects of the Shah, were executed by the Qizilbash as rebels. Three Englishmen were killed in the battle. One of them was William Baffin, after whom Baffin Bay is named.
Two weeks later, on January 10, a large Iranian army landed at Ormuz, quickly took possession of the city and besieged the fortress, which is described by Iskander-Beck Munshi as “an outstanding example of the Frankish art of fortress building. The English ships began a bombardment, bombarding not only the fortress but also the Portuguese fleet under its walls. As at Cashem, the English also installed a battery of cannons on the shore. This time the Portuguese offered stubborn resistance. On March 17, the Kyzylbashi blew up part of the wall and launched a full-scale assault, but were repulsed. Doubtless the garrison held out in the hope that a detachment from Goa would arrive. It was in fact sent, but it was too small and arrived too late. On April 23, after enduring a siege of more than two months and fearing slaughter at the hands of the Kyzylbash, the garrison surrendered to the British. Thus ended centuries of Portuguese domination of the Persian Gulf. For Figueroa it was a “tragedy” caused by stupid Portuguese-Spanish aggressive policies:
“I dare not speculate as to who induced the Council to undertake such a foolish enterprise as to start a war with so mighty a king and attack him in his own territory, besides being supported by so skillful a European people as the English, though pirates and merchants, and to do so with what little troops were available in the Indies, especially in this fortress and city of Ormuz, clearly in danger of imminent defeat and abandoned to the mercy of the first enemy who would attack them.”
The Portuguese garrison and all the women and children were transported across the bay to Muscat and Suhar. The Muslims who had fought with the Portuguese were handed over to the Qizilbashas for execution. Ormuz, with its rich stores of goods, was thoroughly plundered, to the great confusion of Monnoxus: “The Persians and the English moved to plunder, in such a manner that I was saddened and ashamed to see it all, but could not think of an antidote to it. The Safavids were particularly impressed by the Portuguese cannons they had captured, which were sent to Isfahan and placed in front of the Shah”s palace. “Each one was a masterpiece of the Frankish art of cannon casting,” Iskander-bek Munshi wrote admiringly.
Later, the English complained that the Safavids took more booty than they were entitled to. They were also dissatisfied with the bill for supplying English ships during the siege and allowing them to take part in the occupation of the fortress only on condition of leaving two ships to guard it. For this reason they refused the Safavids” request to help them attack Portuguese Muscat. Having captured the island, Shah Abbas no longer needed Ormuz. He moved his trade to mainland Gombrun, which was easier for him to defend and which was soon renamed Bender Abbas – “Abbas”s port. It quickly grew into a city of considerable size and immediately replaced Jask as the port of entry for the British East India Company. It was soon joined by the Dutch East India Company, at first as an ally, which soon turned into an aggressive rival. As for the Portuguese, they made a series of unsuccessful attempts to recapture the island, culminating in the great naval battle off Hormuz on February 11, 1625, between eight Portuguese galleons and an equally strong Anglo-Dutch fleet. It is reported that the Safavids, who observed the battle from the shore, were amazed at the sight of the ships spewing smoke and fire. The battle ended with an uncertain result, but was the last attempt by the Portuguese to threaten Hormuz. In the same year the Portuguese came to an agreement with Abbas, who saw that rivalry between Europeans was only to his advantage and allowed them to establish a trading post and erect a fortress up the coast at Kong. They also strengthened their relations with the Ottoman pasha of Basra, who regarded the Portuguese as useful allies in maintaining almost complete independence from Istanbul.
The Spanish government protested in London against the actions of the British East India Company in Hormuz and demanded an explanation. It was stated that the company had acted under coercion of the Iranians. King James I and his favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, were not at all embarrassed by what had happened and were determined to get their share of the spoils. The Duke of Buckingham, as Lord Admiral, declared that he was due ten per cent. of the value of all that had been captured by the ships of the East India Company in recent years, both from the Portuguese and at Ormuz. This was valued at £100,000. He got his £10,000 after threatening to prosecute the company in the Admiralty Court and detain its ships. The king made it clear that he was expecting the same reward: he asked the question – “Have I not delivered you from the complaints of the Spaniards, and you give me nothing in return?” He also received his ten percent.
On May 30, 1594, during the reign of Fyodor Ivanovich, Prince A.D. Zvenigorodsky was sent to Shah Abbas in Iran. The result of this mission was that the Shah expressed his desire to be with the Russian tsar “in strong friendship, in brotherhood and in love, and in exile forever unmoved.
Abbas was the first to recognize a new dynasty of Romanovs in Russia and allocated a loan of 7 thousand rubles. In 1625 he sent as a gift a relic, the Robe of the Lord, and a magnificent throne. Under Shah Abbas I the possessions of the Safavid dynasty already stretched from the Tigris to the Indus.
A source from early 1614 said that “Kumyks and Kabarda are now all under the Shah”. The Kumyk connection with the Safavid Empire continued later. Shah Abbas was no stranger to the intentions to draw the Great Nogai horde into his sphere of influence. Bukhara merchant Khozya Naurus and caravan head of Jurgench king, if questioned by Samara voivod Prince D.P.Pozharsky in the beginning of 1614, showed that “last summer the shah”s ambassadors were with prince Ishterek, they married his daughter to the shah”s son and negotiated about the Shah”s military aid from the horde against Turkey; in return the ambassadors of prince Ishterek went to the Shah”. Thus was outlined one of the possible solutions in determining the further political fate of the horde. The risk connected with it was obvious: subordination to the Shah would inevitably lead the horde to the war against Osmans, Crimea and Small Nogais. It is obvious that such a decision was not the best. Subordination to Crimea, due to Crimeans” well-known rude and predatory attitude towards subordinated peoples, would have caused a lot of trouble, and would have relegated the horde to the position of sub-vassal, because Crimea itself was a vassal of the Sultan. The Moscow government was most interested in restoring its power in the horde to stop the attacks of the Great Nogai on its lands. But it was powerless to force the horde at that time, and the horde was interested in using the convenient time for lucrative attacks on Russia to the end.
Shah Abbas also sent a diplomatic mission to Europe in 1599, led by Huseynali-Bek Bayat. The mission bypassed several states. Huseynaly-bek spoke only Turkic, so an Armenian from the Vatican named Thomas was appointed interpreter for him personally by the Pope.
During the reign of Abbas, the harem began to exert even more influence on political power than during the struggle for succession before and after the death of Shah Tahmasib and after the death of Muhammad Shah. He began to exert an even more detrimental influence on the future of the Safavid state than the encouragement of dynastic intrigue. At the beginning of his reign, Abbas I continued to follow the traditional Safavid practice of appointing princes as governors of provinces under the guardianship of the Qizilbash chiefs, who, until the princes came of age, were actually governors as well as, as “lala”, guardians and mentors of princes, responsible for their welfare and physical and moral education. Under this system, princes received thorough training in administrative skills and the art of governing the state. Their physical training consisted of a program of lessons in manly amusements such as archery, the art of riding, and fencing. However, the rebellion of one of his sons forced Abbas to abandon this traditional practice and order that henceforth the princes be confined in a harem where their only companions would be palace eunuchs and women. They were isolated from the world, and attempting to make friends with them became a deadly occupation. They left the capital only to accompany Abbas on his campaigns, and that only because he feared that if they remained in the capital they might become the center of a plot against him. The event that led to the cooling of the Shah”s relations with his sons was the mutiny of the Qizilbash chief in 1589, who was the guardian of his second son Hassan, who was at that time governor of Mashhad. This event seems to have revived dark memories of his own youth in Khorasan and how he was used by the Qizilbash as a puppet in a coup d”état against his father. He resorted to extraordinary measures to distance his sons from the political and military leaders of the state, and his pathological suspicion led him to over-listen to informants. In 1614-1615 his eldest son Mohammed Baghir was allegedly at the core of a plot against the shah in which certain Circassian courtiers were involved. After the shah executed some of the suspected Circassians, other Circassian leaders openly supported Muhammed Baghir, and in February 1615 the shah put his son to death. It is likely that Muhammad Bagir was an innocent victim of Circassian intrigue, and Abbas was filled with remorse for his action. Unfortunately, a second plot against him further increased Abbas”s fear of an assassination attempt. In 1621, when Abbas fell ill, his third son Mohammed Khudabende, in honor of his grandfather, prematurely began celebrating his passing and began openly seeking support among the Qizilbash. Upon his recovery, Abbas ordered Muhammad to be blinded. The same thing happened to his fifth son Imamgulu Mirza. Since the second son, Hasan, and the fourth, Ismail, had died before him, Abbas henceforth had no son capable of inheriting him. Apart from the personal tragedy of the situation for the Shah, his policy of confining princes in a harem led to the degeneration of the dynasty, which would later become the main cause of its decline. Moreover, the control of the princes by the eunuchs and women of the harem gave the latter an inordinate and generally deleterious influence on political affairs, as the princes” mothers, aided and abetted by the court officials, relentlessly schemed to ensure the ascension to the throne of their own candidate to the throne.
Shah Abbas had many qualities to be called “the Great. He was a brilliant strategist and tactician, the hallmark of whom was foresight. He preferred diplomacy to war, and showed unrelenting patience in achieving his goals. His presence on the battlefield encouraged his warriors to perform feats beyond their endurance; a typical example of this was his famous marching with a small detachment of troops in the manner of Julius Caesar, which often gave him the advantage of surprise. While he was ruthless in punishing disloyal officers, he possessed a steady attachment to old and reliable comrades-in-arms. On his orders, special instances of heroism on the battlefield were recorded in order to reward their perpetrators handsomely. Abbas gave considerable latitude to those whom he trusted. Most importantly, Abbas was beloved by his subjects because of his ability to communicate with people. He spent a lot of time acting incognito in the streets and bazaars of Isfahan and talking to people in coffee houses. He had a good sense of humor. His manner of dress was simple and without adornment. Describing the luxury of the palace chambers and reception hall, the British diplomat John Malcolm writes
“Abbas dressed in a simple red dress. He wore no ornaments; only the hilt of his sword was gilded. The nobles sitting beside him were also dressed in plain clothes, and it was obvious that the king, surrounded by such wealth and splendor, loved simplicity. Abbas had a handsome face, the most prominent features of which were a large nose and a sharp, penetrating look. Instead of a beard, he wore a bouffant mustache. He was short in stature, but unusually sturdy and active, for throughout his life he was known for his ability to endure fatigue, and up to his last days he remained faithful to his favorite pastime: hunting.
The Italian traveler Pietro della Valle described the significance of Shah Abbas for the population of the Safavid Empire:
“Indeed, so revered are his subjects that they swear by his name; and when they wish you well, they often exclaim in Turkic, ”Shah Abbas murandi vir sin” – ”may King Abbas be favorable to you.””
“The ruler who ruled so long is no more. Doubtless he made some people speak when he was alive; after his death all were silent. Being steadfast and courageous in this last moment, he seems to have surrendered only to fate. Thus, filling the whole world with his glory, the great Shah Abbas died.”
“We are told in all seriousness that when Abbas entered the kitchen at Ardebil, the lid of one of the cauldrons to which he approached rose by itself twice, to a height of four inches on both occasions, as if in deference to his royal person, and that this miracle was witnessed not only by all the cooks but also by several court officers who were at the time in the king”s retinue.”
The reason for such a strong attachment to the memory of Abbas becomes clear in Chardin”s assessment of his personality, which can be said to have been based on his conversations with the people of the state some 40 years after Abbas” death:
“He was a visionary ruler whose only concern was to make his kingdom prosperous and his people happy. He found his empire overrun and lying in ruins, and for the most part impoverished and devastated, and it was hard to believe what changes his able rule would bring about everywhere.”
After the fall of the Safavids in 1722, Abbas” legendary status was reinforced by subsequent events. For much of the remainder of the seventeenth century, life was shattered by chaos and war, oppression and extortion. The Qajar dynasty, which ruled from 1794 to 1925, brought peace and stability, but its rule was bad and corrupt and was humiliated by the domination and interference of two rival empires, Russia and Britain. For this reason, the rule of Abbas came to be regarded as the “Golden Age. “Abbas-Quli-Aga Bakikhanov writes the following about Shah Abbas I:
“Shah Abbas, renowned for his wise government and order of state, established civil and military rules and laws, which the Shahs of Persia still follow to this day. Even in European histories, where the dignity of sovereigns is strictly judged, Shah Abbas, the patron of the sciences and arts, has earned the name of the Great. The peoples of Asia, for whom the memory of this great man has become an ideal of justice and wisdom, idolize him. He erected so many public buildings that no sovereign of the East can compare with him in this respect. Mosques and colleges in the cities, and in the deserts caravanserais and aqueducts, scattered throughout Persia and the Transcaucasus, will long testify to his benefactions. Shah Abbas lived in friendship with all the modern writers and scholars of Persia, who appeared in large numbers during his time, and he himself sometimes wrote poems, which are still appreciated in Persia”.
As a staunch pragmatist, Abbas I realized that religious tolerance toward Christian clerics would create an atmosphere in which trade with Europe would flourish. Likewise his promotion of Mashhad as the main center of Shiite pilgrimage would keep in the purses of his subjects large sums of money which would otherwise be spent in the other main Shiite shrines of Kerbala, Najaf, Qazimayn and Samarra which are in Mesopotamia and had been under Ottoman rule for most of Abbas” reign. The restoration and adornment of Shiite shrines such as Mashhad and the transfer of land and other properties as waqf or inalienable property to the tomb also enhanced the prestige and wealth of the clergy and made them more willing to accept the usurpation by the Safavid monarchs of their own prerogative to act as a general representative in the land of Mehdi or the Shiite messiah. This is not to say that Abbas”s personal piety was not sincere. Whenever he was in Khorasan, he paid a visit to the tomb of the Eighth Imam and was on duty at it, doing various jobs to demonstrate his zeal, such as sweeping carpets or removing soot from candles. In 1601 he made his famous walking pilgrimage from Isfahan to Mashhad in 28 days. The Shah issued a decree that any of the emirs, chief officials of the state, and courtiers who wished to make the pilgrimage with him could ride, since the vow to walk the entire journey on foot applied only to him; however, several of his retinue walked the entire journey with him on foot. These gestures indicate the importance Abbas I attached to strengthening the Shiite element of the Safavid ideology, but he was equally concerned, acting as the “murshidi kamil” (perfect spiritual instructor) of the Safavid order, and maintaining the cult of the Safavid sheikhs in Ardabil. Before starting any military expedition or making any significant decision, he made sure to visit the tombs of his ancestors in Ardabil; during these visits he called upon the spiritual aid of the holy sheikhs of the Safavid order through prayers.
The increased secularization during the reign of Abbas I was reflected in the decline in the influence of the “Sadr,” the head of the clergy class and, in the early period of the Safavid state, one of the chief officials. The influence of the Sadr, who was a political appointee, diminished as doctrinal uniformity spread throughout the Safavid Empire. As a consequence, the power of the “mujtahids,” or the most prominent Shiite theologians, increased. The Safavids used established Sufism to come to power; when they came to power, they used established Isnaasharism to maintain it. With the increasing crystallization of Isnaasharite ideology, the Mujtahids became the most influential members of the clerical class. This inevitably led to a threat to the position of the Shah himself, for, as already noted, the Safavid Shahs claimed representation in the land of the Mehdi or Hidden Imam. In claiming this, they usurped the prerogatives of the mujtahids, who were the real and legitimate representatives. They reluctantly allowed the Shahs to usurp this prerogative because the emergence of a state in which Shi”ism was the official form of religion greatly increased the influence of the clergy class as a whole. During the reign of Shah Tahmasib, however, there were several instances of friction between the Sadr, who represented political power, and the Mujtahids, and after the decline of the Sadr”s influence only the power of the Shah kept the Mujtahids in obedience. During the last half century of Safavid rule, under weak shahs, the potential threat of the clergy becoming dominant in political affairs became a reality. During the reign of a strong monarch, such as Abbas I, the mujtahids knew their place.
The image of Abbas is reflected in the work of Mirza Fatali Akhundov “Deceived Stars”. The period of the reign of Abbas I is also reflected in the Kurdish epic “The Fortress of Dim Dim Dim”, where the Kurds defended in the fortress against the Shah”s troops. The role of Shah Abbas was played by Kakhi Kavsadze in the 1983 mini-series “The Oath Record” (USSR).