Tahmasp I

gigatos | May 24, 2022


Tahmasp I, Shah Tahmasib (March 3, 1514 (1514-03-03)-1576) was the second shah of the Safavid state. The eldest son of Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid dynasty.

Tahmasib I was born in Isfahan in 1514. At the age of three, he was appointed ruler of Khorasan. Ismail”s decision to give the province to his three-year-old son Tahmasib was a prudent observance of the well-established Turkic-Mongol tradition of appointing an heir to the throne to that particular province, and his atabek was Emir Khan Mosullu. Father Shah Ismail I loved Tahmasib very much, and according to the instruction he gave to Div Sultan Rumlu on the last day of his life, he very much wanted Tahmasib to inherit the throne. While on his deathbed, the Shah appointed Div Sultan as his guardian and advisor, telling Div Sultan the following:

“I appoint you guardian of my son Shah Tahmasib. You are to be his guardian for a full seven years, and for the reason that you will have this power, all the chiefs and emirs, Sufis and Qizilbashis should obey your orders on condition that you will be kind to the Qizilbashis and will not annoy them. After the dignified life of my son has reached the age of 18, do not interfere in his affairs any more and leave him to rule the country according to his own will and personal judgment.

The civil war between the Qizilbash emirs extremely weakened the state and provided an unexpected opportunity for the two most formidable enemies of the Safavid Empire, the Osman in the west and the Uzbeks in the east, to penetrate deep into Safavid territory. Although the Safavids suffered considerable territorial losses as a result of these attacks, but Tahmasib, who fought against discord and treachery from above, both from the Qizilbash emirs and his own brothers, managed to keep the Safavid Empire intact for more than half a century. Both Shah Ismail, who created the institutional structure of the early Safavid state and the strength of its dynamic ideology, and the personal qualities of Shah Tahmasib played a role in this. Tahmasib ruled for 52 years, longer than any other Safavid monarch. The Shah was both physically and spiritually brave. He, like his father, wrote poetry in the Azerbaijani language. His nephew (his brother”s son) Ibrahim Mirza also wrote in Azeri. The court culture during the early reign of Tahmasib continued in much the same way as under Ismail. Just as Ishmael did, Tahmasib also took part in seasonal migrations. He spent most of the summer on summer pastures in various places, usually all over Azerbaijan, in the same places where his father camped. Like other Safavid shahs, Tahmasib I also consciously regarded himself as heirs of the Turkic-Mongol tradition and, in particular, shaped himself in the tradition of the 14th century warlord Tamerlane. In his autobiography, the Shah insists that he was in the habit of reading the Tarikh-i Teymur. Especially in later times, when the dynasty ceased to be a warrior clan, this romantic past was revived and presented with particular force.

Shah Tahmasib achieved much during the first thirty years of his reign. He managed to hold his position through ten years of civil war between the “rowdy praetorians” – the Qizilbash chiefs. With negligible forces he withstood massive attacks from both east and west; and he also gradually built up the strength of his armed forces.

Domestic Policy

In 1524, at the age of 10, he became the ruler-shahin-shah of the Safavid state. After Tahmasp was enthroned with the consent of the emirs and the army, Div Sultan Rumlu, who was the atabek of Tahmasp and, through the will of the late Shah Ismail I, amir al-Umar, took control of the state affairs and the administration of the state into his own hands. The Div Sultan encamped at Lara, and the emirs who assembled there, in light of the will of the late Shah, recognized him as their leader and aksakal (muqaddam wa rish-safid). These emirs belonged mainly to the Rumlu, Tekeli, and Zulkadar tribes. The Shamlu for the most part kept aloof; two of the leading Shamlu emirs, the governor of Herat Durmush-khan and the governor of Astrabad Zeynal-khan, did not join the Div Sultan personally, but nevertheless obeyed the hukm of the late Shah; indeed, they induced other emirs to support him; as a result, an emir from Shamlu and even some emirs from Ustajla joined the Div Sultan. Most Ustajl emirs, however, under the leadership of Köpek Sultan, brother of the former Amir al-Umar Chayan Sultan, stood in opposition to the Div Sultan. The Ustajls “surpassed other Turkoman tribes in power and number of tribesmen” and undoubtedly for this reason refused to reluctantly accept the assumption of supreme power in the Divine state by Sultan Rumlu, an act which they considered an indicator of excessive “pride and arrogant notion of greatness”. The Ustajls occupied the capital Tabriz, and some emirs offered to meet the Div Sultan with this army. Köpek Sultan rejected this suggestion, saying

“We are both slaves of the Shah and adherents of the same threshold; we will not compete with each other.”

In the autumn of 1525, a year after Tahmasp had ascended the throne, the Div Sultan marched from Lar on Tabriz, and sent a letter to the Ustajlah faction at Tabriz, stating that since Ismael had entrusted Tahmasp to the guardianship of the Div Sultan, who was one of the Sufi veterans of the House of the Safavids, and took a solemn oath from the other emirs that they would not act contrary to the decisions of the Div Sultan, it was thus their duty to obey Ismael”s will, and that the Ustajls should therefore leave Tabriz to salute the Div Sultan; otherwise a civil war will break out and the enemies of the Safavid state will get the chance they have been waiting for for years. The Ustajl emirs, holding in their minds the disgrace that would be attached to their name if they refused to obey, decided to agree to this demand. Köpek Sultan went to greet Div Sultan as he approached Tabriz, and the emirs visited Tahmasp together at Charandab.From the events that followed, it is clear that Div Sultan was not only an able commander, but also a shrewd politician. Köpek Sultan was completely outmaneuvered. Div Sultan executed Harynja-bek Ustajli and Naryn-bek Kajar, “who were the instigators (khamır-maya) of these controversies. Vekil Qadi Jahan Qazvini, “who was also the perpetrator of these disputes and confusion,” narrowly escaped the same fate and was imprisoned in the fortress of Nuri in Mazandaran. Köpek Sultan hoped that if he submitted to the Div Sultan, the latter would make him his co-villain, but this hope did not materialize. Instead, the Div Sultan held the post of atabek of Tahmasp on familiar terms (bi-qai”da-yi mahud), and a triumvirate appears to have emerged consisting of Div Sultan Rumlu, Chuh Sultan Tekeli, and Köpek Sultan Ustajla. This triumvirate, with the help of a kind of advisory council consisting of three viziers, ruled the state during the last months of 1525 and the first few months, in the late summer and fall of 1526. It is clear from the sources that Div Sultan and Chuha Sultan did not allow Köpek Sultan to exercise power. “Ahsan at-tawarikh states that Cukha Sultan put his seal instead of Köpek Sultan”s seal. Turning Köpek Sultan into a “sleeping partner” in the triumvirate, Div Sultan and Chukha Sultan attempted to disarm the entire Ustajli tribe. The Ustajla emirs were excluded from all Diwan affairs. Div Sultan and Chuha Sultan sought to completely disperse (tafraqa wa parishani) the said emirs, and allocated an ikta to each of them. Köpek Sultan, realizing that as a result of this cunning act (ganda-bazi) his position had become untenable, decided to retreat and headed for Erivan and Nakhchivan, which were his provinces. “Ahsan at-tawarikh” states that Div Sultan and Chukha Sultan sent all Ustajli to raid Georgia. Whether or not Köpek Sultan”s departure from the capital was voluntary, his colleagues took advantage of his absence “to take away and transfer most of the territory forming the ikta of the Ustajli tribe” (akhtar-i wilayat ki iqta-i an tayifa bud taghyir wa tabdil dadand). “Ahsan at-tawarikh” says that

“after they (the Ustajl) left, the tiyul that belonged to the Ustajl were abolished.”

The result of this arbitrary decision on the part of Div Sultan and Chuh Sultan was the outbreak of civil war in 1526. In the spring of that year the Ustajls gathered in the plain of Sultania and began to behave with considerable promiscuity (bi-hifazi). Gasym Khalifa Warsag was sent to negotiate with them, and made great efforts to conclude an agreement between the two sides, but “the command of heaven prevailed and the thread of enmity could only be cut with the sword.” In the first battle between the rival Kyzylbash factions, which took place in the Sultaniye region, the Ustajls initially seized the initiative, defeating a detachment of Tekeli, but were later turned to flight; they were defeated again at Kharzavil near Tarum and took refuge in the forests of Gilan. In the following year Köpek Sultan led the Ustajls to Ardebil, defeated and killed the aged governor of Badınjan Sultan Rumla, and moved on Tabriz. He met with Div Sultan and Chukha Sultan near Sharur, but was defeated and killed. The surviving Ustajli emirs fled back to Resht. As a result of the conflict between the emirs, political life was deprived of direction and order, and turmoil swept the country. Many Qizilbash troops from Khorasan were drawn into the civil war and the Uzbeks were allowed to seize Tus and Astrabad and roam at will in Khorasan; most of the Safavid governors in Khorasan left their iktas and went to the Ray and Har Ajam Iraq districts; among them were governors of Nishapur, Sebzevar, Astrabad, Damgan and Bistam).

The surviving members of the triumvirate, Div Sultan and Chukha Sultan, after getting rid of their rival, turned against each other. Chukha Sultan advised Tahmasp that it would be prudent to get rid of Div Sultan because he was the instigator (khamir-maya) of the discord among the Qizilbash tribes. On July 5, 1527, when Div Sultan entered the divan, Tahmasp fired an arrow at him, which, despite the Shah”s lack of strength, struck him in the chest. At a sign given by Tahmasp, Div Sultan was killed by the guards (muwakillan). Chukha Sultan consolidated this success by persuading some of the Ustajlah emirs who had taken refuge in Gilan to return to their loyalty. They were received by Tahmasp at Qazvin; each of them was treated as befitting his position and assigned an ulk and an office (mansab).

Thus, Chuha Sultan became, after three years from the ascension of Tahmasp, the de facto ruler of the realm; the administration was entirely in his hands (ratq wa fatq-i saltanat-i Shah Tahmasp dar qabda-i iqtidar-i Chuha Sultan Takkalu bud). He became so powerful that Tahmasp was left with only the name of the kingdom. He gave away most of the provinces to members of his tribe, the Tekeli. In the spring of 1529, however, an incident occurred that seriously damaged the reputation of both Chukh Sultan and the entire Tekeli tribe. Tahmasp was involved in a campaign against the Uzbeks to liberate Herat, which had been besieged by Ubeid Khan Uzbek for seven months. The Safavid army clashed near Mashhad with an Uzbek army that far outnumbered it, “Tarihi-Ilchii Nizamshah,” roughly estimates the strength of the sides in the following numbers: more than 100,000 Uzbeks against 30,000 Qizilbash. “Ahsan at-tawarikh,” says that the Uzbek army was the largest to cross the Oxus since the time of Genghis Khan. According to one account, some emirs, including Emir al-Umar Chukh Sultan, who commanded the right wing of the Safavid army, were intimidated by the numerical superiority of the Uzbeks, and fled the battlefield. Another account says that the Tekeli were subdued by Janibek Sultan and fled, and the emirs of the right flank of the Safavid army fled after them; Tahmasp in the center held firm, and in a counterattack by the Shamlu and Zulkadars Ubeid Khan was wounded, which resulted in the disorderly flight of many Uzbeks from the battlefield. Meanwhile, Janibek Sultan, who had been plundering and killing in the Safavid rear, approached Tahmasp”s camp, thinking it to be Ubeid”s camp. Tahmasp immediately prepared to attack him, but Chukha, very unmanly, collapsed to his knees and insisted that they must wait for the return of the Qizilbash who had fled the battlefield. Nevertheless, another chronicle states that Chukha Sultan, who was the emir of al-Umar”s army, fled at a distance of 10 farsakhs.

Whichever version is accepted, it is clear that Chukha Sultan was guilty of cowardice in this matter. Nevertheless, the administration of affairs remained in his hands. The Shamlu chief Hussain Khan was rewarded for his valor in the battle against the Uzbeks by being re-approved as governor of Herat, which had not yet recovered from the effects of the previous siege and was in acute shortage of supplies. Chukha Sultan, whose conduct in the campaign of 1529 was disreputable in comparison with that of Hussein khan, delayed the organization of a rescue expedition for Herat to such an extent that Hussein khan, desperate to get help and realizing that the only purpose of Chukha Sultan was to let him fall into Uzbek hands, was forced to enter into negotiations with Ubeid khan. Ubeid permitted Husayn Khan, his ward Samu Mirza, the Qizilbash garrison, and a certain number of Herat Shi”ites to leave the city and retreat in safety through Sistan toward Shiraz. Their presence in Shiraz was a source of anxiety for Tahmasp, who summoned Hussein Khan to his court. The latter, fearing Choukh Sultan, delayed his departure, but having received assurances of safety, joined the Shah”s camp near Isfahan, and was singled out among his colleagues and peers by the abundance of the Shah”s favor and disposition.

Chukha Sultan could not tolerate the presence of his rival at court, and decided to kill him at a feast. Hussain Khan was warned of the plot, and at nightfall went with a detachment of shamlu to the tent of Chuha sultan. Chuha sultan fled and hid in the divan. Hussain khan rushed after him, and the fight was already going on in the shah”s tent itself, and two arrows even hit the shah”s crown. The Zulkadars who were on guard took the side of the shamlu, and one of their number mortally wounded Chukh Sultan, but the tekeli concealed the fact of his death. Reinforcements arrived at the Tekeli and the Shamlu were forced to retreat; 300 of their number were taken captive by the Tekeli and executed. The Tekeli continued in a state of rebellion, and a few days later there was a battle between them and a combined army of Ustajla, Rumlu, Zulkadars and Afshars at Imamzad Sahl Ali near Hamadan. A supporter of the Tekeli, a certain Yahya-oglu, rushed into the dovlatana and tried to take the Shah to the Tekeli camp. Tahmasp was forced to kill him and then ordered the execution of this unruly tribe (bi qatl-i am tayifa-yi gumrah farman dad). The Tekeli emirs mounted their horses and approached Dovlatkhana, but were met with a hail of arrows from the Ghorchi and fled. Many were killed: the rest fled to Baghdad, where the Safavid governor, though Tekeli, executed some of them as proof of their loyalty and sent their heads to the Shah.

The period of Tekeli domination was replaced by the period of Shamlu domination. After the death of Chukha Sultan, Hussein Khan Shamlu became the most influential emir of the state. Just as Chukha Sultan favored the Tekeli tribe in appointments to posts, so did Hussein Khan to strengthen the position of his own tribe; the best (khulasa) posts in the provinces were given to members of the Shamlu tribe. Hussain Khan did not permit the Shah to give orders in religious or political matters (hadrat shahra-i dar amr-i khilafat wa saltanat chandan dakhl namidad).

The period of Shamlu domination lasted three years, when Hussein Khan was suddenly deprived of power. He seems to have deceived himself in a number of ways. He had already angered the Shah by executing Amir Jafar Savaji, who had been appointed nizarat-i diwan-i a”la by Tahmasp in 1525. In 1534 Husayn Khan was involved in a plot to poison Tahmasp led by one Bashdan Ghar, a relative of Husayn Khan, and was accused of indoctrinating the warriors to want Mirza himself to rule. In addition, he was suspected of collaborating with the Ottomans. When Tahmasp received a report that the desertion of Husayn khan had become imminent, he summoned him and signaled for his execution. His army (qushun) was given to the Shah”s brother Bahram Mirza.

The execution of Hussein Khan Shamlu marked the end of the Qizilbash interregnum in 1523-1533 and was also a turning point in Tahmasp”s relations with a number of Turkoman emirs who had usurped the Shah”s power since his ascension to the throne. Husayn Khan was not only the lala of his eldest son Mohammed Mirza, born in 1531, but also a cousin of Tahmasp himself. His execution therefore had a very strong effect on the other emirs. The fact that Tahmasp did not allow another Shamlu emir to take command of the Shamli gorchis, but placed them under the direct command of Bahram Mirza, considered in conjunction with the appointment of a Persian as vekil after Husayn Khan Shamlu, speaks of the Shah”s determination to curtail the power of the emirs and to respond to the kramola among the Qizilbash. The fact that Tahmasp appointed Qadi Jahan Qazvini as vekil instead of simply approving the appointment that had already been made by the emirs indicates that Tahmasp, after being under the domination of the emirs for ten years, ended up exercising some degree of shah”s power.

During the period of Shah Tahmasib, the eshikagasibashi (keepers of the palace) were the following people:

A few years after his accession to the throne, there are mentions of the presence of both cannons (Topchiyan) and gunners (Tufangchiyan) in the Safavid army. The use of cannons was still mostly limited to carrying out sieges. In 1539 we hear for the first time about the new military post of topchibashi, or artillery commander-in-chief. As for hand-held firearms, units using arquebuses or muskets were part of the Safavid forces even before the death of Shah Ismail, and they are often mentioned in the sources after the ascension to the throne of Tahmasib.

During the period of Tahmasp I the governor of Sistan, Malik Mahmud, was supplanted by a new elite, the Qizilbash chiefs, who were appointed as governors and wali of the province. In 1538 Shah Tahmasp sent troops to suppress a rebellion in Shirvan led by Algas and the last Shirvanshah of the Derbendi dynasty, Shahrukh, was captured. This put an end to the existence of the once powerful State of Shirvanshahs. In 1540 the Anatolian Qizilbashis expelled from the Ottoman Empire came to the court of shah Tahmasp. They presented their gifts to the Shah to the best of their abilities. Then the shah ordered them to go to three parts of his lands, namely, he sent one part to the province of Khorasan, another to the province of Shirvan and a third to the province of Iraq.

During this period, only a small portion of the state”s land was under the direct control of the court itself

Under Tahmasp, carpet weaving became a priority state industry, and the Persian school of fine arts represented by Kemaleddin Behzad, Sultan Muhammad and Aga Mirak received a new impulse in its development precisely because of Tahmasp”s patronage and his passion for various kinds of art. Military, and hence political power during this period was still in the hands of the Qizilbash tribes at both the central and provincial levels in such a way that after the distribution of lands among the tribal elements the center only superficially controlled provincial affairs. Despite the fact that the provincial administrative structures clearly copied the structure of the center, the tribes considered the lands granted to them in the provinces – as tiyul, ikta or land grants – as their own. The revenues from them were in practice grants over which the center had little control. The local authorities also appointed their own judges and enjoyed autonomy in the organization of religious affairs.

The situation of the Rayyats, somewhat relieved under Shah Ismail I, became very difficult again by the end of the reign of Shah Tahmasp I. There were revolts of peasants and artisans in the country. The history of these popular uprisings is almost unstudied. Particularly persistent was the rebellion in Gilan. Economically this region was then little connected with central Iran. The Shah”s power there was weak. After subduing the rebellion of Amirye Dubaj, Khan of Biye pas (recht), the Shah gave his possessions under the rule of Khan-Ahmed Khan, lord of Biye pish (Lahijan, who ruled in 1536-1568 and 1578-1592), of the Kiye dynasty. When in 1568 the shah wished to return the khanate of Biye pis to Jemshid-khan, son of Amire Dubaj, disputes arose over the division of lands, which gave rise to the indignation of Khan-Ahmed-khan of Lahijan against the shah. Khan-Ahmed Khan was defeated, deposed and imprisoned in the fortress of Istakhr near Shiraz. But the masses of Gilan stubbornly defended their independence. In 1569 they formed a militia of eighteen thousand men and proclaimed a khan of one of the members of the deposed dynasty. The uprising was suppressed, the seventh son of the Shah Mahmud Mirza was appointed governor of Gilyan, the lands in Gilyan were divided among the emirs of the Ustajli tribe and other nomadic tribes of Qizilbash (1570). The oppression and violence of these emirs caused an uprising of the “Gilyan commoners, rabble, rabble and scum,” as official sources call the peasants and the urban poor. The Kyzylbash emirs and the Shah”s officials were partially slaughtered, partially expelled (1571). The whole region was in the hands of the rebels. The struggle of Gilyan with the Shah”s troops was of variable success and only in 1572 a strong feudal militia of Ustajla and other Kyzylbash tribesmen, sent by the Shah to Gilyan, could finally suppress the uprising.

By the time of Tahmasp”s death in 1576, the Ustajla tribe held 15 key posts in the state, including such influential positions as the guardianship of various princes and the governorship of Khorasan. The latter also meant the post of guardian of the future Shah Abbas I, the second son of Muhammad Khudabende, the eldest son of Tahmasp. The Ustajls also held the posts of governors of Sarakhs, Sistan, Shushter, and Dizful. He died in the city of Qazvin in 1576.

Foreign Policy

His reign was marked by the continuation of the paternal wars with the Ottoman Empire, which, taking advantage of the campaign of the Safavid troops against the Uzbeks of the Bukhara Khanate, who had seized the Safavid possessions of Khorasan, invaded the Safavid Empire three times (1534, 1535 and 1548). Disputes and intrigues among the Qizilbash tribes undermined the military power of the Safavids. In 1533 Tahmasib could muster only 7,000 men to meet an invading Ottoman army of 90,000 under Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, and the loyalty of many even of those 7,000 was in doubt. The ability to survive such odds was undoubtedly based on the fact that Tahmasib was a master of Fabian tactics. The need to fight on two fronts was a serious handicap for the Safavids. It meant that the maximum power of the Safavids could not be mobilized either in the east or in the west, and in reality the Safavid armies were constantly inferior in numbers to both the Ottoman and the Uzbek armies. The Ottomans were greatly aided in their attempts to subdue the Safavid Empire by the renegade Qizilbashite emirs and the traitor Alkas Mirza, brother of the Shah.  Sultan Suleiman”s first invasion in 1534 was the result of the intrigues of the renegade Ulema of the Tekeli tribe. While the triumvir Chukha Sultan was the de facto ruler of the state, Ulema was the commander-in-chief of the army of Azerbaijan. After the fall of Chukha Sultan, Ulema vowed to take his place as the chief official of the state. When Hussein Khan Shamli was appointed to replace Chukhi Sultan, Ulema did not adhere to his duty of loyalty to the Safavid state and defected to the Ottomans. Many Tekeli officers fled in fear for their lives as a result of the harsh action against the Tekeli rebellion in 1530-1531, but there is no evidence that the Shah outlawed all Tekeli who were not involved in the rebellion after the death of Chuh Sultan. It was Ulema who brought to the attention of the Ottoman Sultan the fact that the northwest and center of the country lay defenseless in 1533, when the Shah was planning an invasion of Transoxania. Sultan Süleyman sent an army of 80,000-90,000 men under the command of Ibrahim Pasha and followed him with the main army himself. The Grand Vizier made contact with Ulema and sent him with an army to Ardabil. Shah Tahmasib marched back from the border of Transoxania to Ray in a forced march, covering the distance in 21 days. The situation was desperate.  Sultan Suleiman joined his forces with the Vizier, and the huge Ottoman army repulsed the small detachment sent by the Shah to try to hold Tabriz. A number of other Qizilbash officers deserted, and the loyalty of some of those who remained was in doubt. At this critical moment a thick snowfall covered the plain of Sultania, where the Ottomans were camped, and many soldiers died of the cold. Suleiman I, who could not return the same way he had come, since there were no supplies left in Azerbaijan, was forced to retreat through Kurdistan. The Shah went in pursuit of Ulema and other defectors trapped in the fortress of Van, but meanwhile Sultan Suleiman occupied Baghdad at the invitation of the Safavid garrison, which consisted of Tekeli. Only the garrison commander and 300 soldiers were loyal to the Safavids. After that Baghdad and the province of Iraq, conquered by Shah Ismail in 1508, would remain in Ottoman hands except for a brief period of 1623-1638.

The Ottoman offensive continued in 1535 and was led by Sultan Suleiman I from Baghdad. A series of battles took place in the territory between Kurdistan and Anatolia, in which the Safavids emerged victorious everywhere. The renegade Ulema again fought on the side of the Ottomans. In 1535 Tahmasib was forced to lift the siege of Van, and headed for Azerbaijan. The two armies came face to face near the town of Darjazin (near Hamadan), and the Safavid Qizilbashi won an impressive victory. Suleiman I, who was overstretched and short of supplies, undertook a retreat of the main army to Anatolia, sending Mohammed Pasha and Sinan Pasha to slow down a possible Safavid pursuit. These troops were destroyed by the emirs of Tahmasib Ghazi Khan Zulkadar and Budak Khan Qajar, and the Ottomans were forced to cede almost all the lands they had conquered the previous year. In the winter of 1535 two Safavid ambassadors were sent to Ibrahim Pasha on behalf of the mother Tajla Beyim. They offered to make peace, but Ibrahim Pasha refused and said to the Safavid ambassadors, “I am a sultanate. I do what I want. The Sultanate is (completely) in my hands. I can both open (my hand) and close it.” The peace initiative was rejected, and the Ottoman-Sufavid war continued until Shah Tahmasib”s victory over Suleiman soon followed in the vicinity of Suleimania.

The third Ottoman invasion took place in 1548 and was as large-scale as the first. Sultan Süleyman I advanced from Istanbul with a huge army recruited from Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, Karaman, Diyar-e Rabia and Iraq, accompanied by a large number of artillery and countless janissaries. The traitor Alkas Mirza, brother of Shah Tahmasib, marched with him. He, being governor of Shirvan, rebelled against the Shah, was pardoned, rebelled again, and finally took refuge from the wrath of Tahmasib with the Ottoman Sultan. Alkas told the sultan that if he invaded the country at the head of a large army, there would be widespread rebellion in his favor. Tahmasib made his usual preparations to repel the new attack. He completely devastated the area between Tabriz and the Ottoman border, so that no wheat or grass was left. The inhabitants of Tabriz blocked the underground canals for water, so that no drinking water was left. Other similar measures were taken in order to deprive the enemy of the possibility of obtaining any kind of food. When Suleiman I reached the border with the Safavids, he sent the renegade Ulema Sultan to besiege Van and detached Alkas Mirza with an army of 40,000 men in the direction of Merend. The Ottoman troops reoccupied Tabriz, but very soon began to suffer from lack of food. When their pack animals began to swarm like flies, Suleiman I headed back again, pursued at every turn by the Qizilbash. The Sultan sent Alkas Mirza, who had become useless to him because his words proved to be empty bluster, and Ulema, in the hope that they could block the way for some of the Kyzylbash who pursued him. This move proved unsuccessful. Alkas Mirza went deep into the center of the Safavid Empire, passing through Qom to Kashan; the people of Isfahan locked the city gates in front of him, and he headed for the province of Fars, where Shiraz also refused to let him in. After a similarly unsuccessful attempt to gain support in Khuzistan, Alkas Mirza returned to Baghdad in despair. Now only a source of anxiety for the Ottomans, he was expelled from Baghdad and fled to Kurdistan, where he was arrested by Safavid troops and brought before the Shah, who reproached him for treason and undignified conduct. His life was spared, but he and another treacherous brother of the shah, Sam Mirza, were imprisoned in the remote fortress-prison of Kahkah.

The suppression of Alkas Mirza”s rebellion was followed by 4-5 years of peace between the Safavid and Ottoman empires. Small acts of insubordination on the part of Kurdish chieftains of the frontier were hushed up, and Shah Tahmasib was induced to begin negotiations for a longer-term peace. Before this happened, however, provocative actions by Iskander Pasha, governor of Van and then governor-general of Erzerum, which included attacks on Hoy and Erivan, led to the fourth and last Ottoman invasion during the reign of Suleiman I. This time there was a change in the usual course of events. Shah Tahmasib seized the initiative. The fact that he was able to divide his army into four army corps and send each in a separate direction indicated a significant increase in the power of the Safavid army. Iskander Pash”s army was decisively defeated in the vicinity of Erzurum, losing 3,000 men. The Shah captured a number of key fortresses along the border. When Sultan Suleiman I finally reached Nakhijevan in the summer of 1553, he found it impossible to remain in that territory because of the effectiveness of the Safavid scorched earth tactics and retreated toward Erzurum. During this retreat a Safavid patrol captured Sinan Bey, one of the Sultan”s closest confidants and special favorites, and this made him even more willing to enter into serious peace negotiations.

It was not until 1555 that a peace treaty was concluded between the Safavid State and the Ottoman Empire in the city of Amasya. It is true that the Ottoman attacks deprived Tahmasib of Baghdad and Mesopotamia, including the fortress of Van. But he was able to prevent further loss of lands, and most importantly, the loss of Azerbaijan. Under the Peace of Amasya along the Ottoman-Safavi border there were minor territorial changes, and both sides made mutual concessions. Georgia was divided into mutually agreed spheres of influence. The peace agreement remained intact until the death of Shah Tahmasib. The fact that Tahmasib was able to maintain his rule against the Ottoman Empire, which was then at the height of its power, is a great achievement.

In 1559, Shehzadeh Bayazid, son of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who had been defeated by his brother Shehzadeh Selim at the Battle of Konya, fled under the protection of Tahmasp. Two years later he was extradited for a huge ransom of 400,000 gold pieces to his father and was executed by his brother Selim along with his five sons. Tahmasib was held in high esteem among the Ottoman elite for curbing the Qizilbash and handing Prince Bayazid over to his father. The Ottoman literary scholar Mustafa Ali even composed a mournful elegy on the occasion of Tahmasib”s death, praising him for his political talent and patronage of artists.

Between 1524 and 1538 the Uzbeks, under the leadership of Ubeidullah Khan, made five major incursions into Khorasan; these were very different from the almost customary annual raids across the northeastern border. At the Battle of Jam in 1528 an apparently impending total rout by the Uzbeks was turned into a victory by Tahmasib”s personal bravery and his ability to lead his troops. Tahmasib had only 24,000 soldiers against an Uzbek army of 80,000 experienced veterans and some 40,000 fusiliers and irregular troops. The news that the Shah had moved the main part of his army to Azerbaijan to repel the Ottoman threat was a signal to the Uzbeks to increase pressure on the northwestern border. Conversely, the Shah failed time after time to apply any lasting measures against the Uzbeks because of the Ottoman incursions in the west. For example, in the winter of 1533-1534, when Tahmasib had just liberated Herat after that city had endured a terrifying siege of 18 months, during which the garrison and inhabitants were forced to eat dogs and cats, the Shah was planning a major campaign into Transoxania when he received news that Sultan Süleyman had invaded Azerbaijan and was forced to return west. An endless series of attacks led by Ubeidullah Khan in the east continued until the death of this Uzbek leader in 1540.

Babur was the first to recognize Tahmasib”s ascension to the throne and did so by sending his subordinate Khoja Asad to the Safavid court in December 1526. Safavid officials sent a new ambassador, Suleiman Aga Turkman. Suleiman Aga brilliantly proved himself as a Qizilbash officer abroad: during the battle of Kanwa with the Mevara Rajputs on March 17, 1527 he was one of the highest ranking emirs on the right flank of Babur”s army. Suleiman Agha Turkman spent two more months in India before returning to Iran with Khoja Asad, a manifestation of the growing closeness between the Safavid and Mughal dynasties.

The Mughal padishah Humayun was overthrown and forced to flee to the Safavid Empire for help from Shah Tahmasib. After some time of Humayun”s residence in the Safavid empire, negotiations took place between the two rulers. Humayun arrived at Tahmasib”s palace. At that time the shah ordered him to wear the Qizilbash taj. Humayun agreed and considered it an honor. After that, Tahmasib put the headdress on the padishah”s head himself. Tahmasib”s condition was also that Humayun should accept Shi”ism, which he successfully fulfilled and later propagated in his possessions. Shah Tahmasib decided to assist the defeated Mughal padishah Humayun so that he could regain his lost territories. After negotiations, Tahmasib ordered his commanding governors, Budag Khan Kajar, Shahgul Sultan Afshar and Ahmed Sultan Shamli to take Zamini Dowar and Kandahar, and after that to advance with all their might to Kabul and Ghazni and seize them. They were also to take Humayun”s relatives who opposed him and punish them. In 1555, the Qizilbash expeditionary corps marched with Humayun and the Padishah was able to regain power in India.


Begum Sultan (1567-1591)

Ghazi Khan was a warlord of the Tekeli tribe. In 1530, when Bahram Mirza was left in Herat as governor of Khorasan, Gazi Khan was appointed lala prince. In Herat they had to endure a brutal siege by the Uzbeks, which lasted a year and a half. When Tahmasib finally arrived with his troops in the winter of 1533-1534, Ghazi Khan declared that his warriors needed to be replaced. Sam Mirza was appointed governor of Khorasan. Tahmasib granted Gazi-khan a territory or feudal possession (ulqa) in the south of Shirvan and even appointed him lala of Alkas Mirza, but in early 1545 Alkas Mirza was ordered to execute him, and his constant treachery and perfidy were given as reasons.

Gökça Sultan was an emir from the tribe of Qajar, he was the commander and tutor of Prince Ismail Mirza. Gökça Sultan fell ill and died during the march to the Astrabad region in 1555.

Huseynaly-bek nicknamed “Köpək qıran” (“Dog Killer”) – a commander of the tribe Kadzhar, was a member of the campaign of Shah Tahmasp to Van in 1534-1535.

Mantasha Sultan came from the Sheikhly clan of the Ustajli tribe. He is first mentioned in the sources as the murderer of Shah Ismail”s brother, Suleiman Mirza. During the absence of Ismail in the Khorasan campaign in 1513, Suleiman began a poorly organized rebellion, attempting to capture Tabriz. Mantasha was a mere gorchu at this time; his courageous act clearly won approval at court. The following year he took part in the Battle of Chaldiran, in which, among the many other Safavid casualties, his elder brother, the gorchubashi of Sari Pire, was killed. In the Ustajl war Mantasha appears as one of the emirs of the tribe who took refuge in Gilan after the battle with the Shah”s army in 1526. The Ustajls made peace with Tahmasib in 1529 and Mantasha became one of the leading emirs at court. He died suddenly in 1545 in Nakhijevan, which had been granted to him as an “ulq” or feudal possession in 1539.

Farrukhzad-bek was the head of the Yasawul of the Karadagli tribe. He is first mentioned in the sources in 1555, when he was sent as an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire to negotiate peace, which ended with the signing of the Amasi Peace Treaty. Farrukhzad Bek was also an eshikagasibashi (keeper of the palace). He died in 1575.

Shahgulu Khalifa is the keeper of the seal of Shah Tahmasp of the Gavurgalu clan of the Zulkadar tribe. He is first mentioned in 1530 as one of the chiefs of the tribe. Three years later he held one of the highest positions in the Shah”s entourage, the post of eshikagasibashi. At this time he was promoted to the position of seal keeper when the previous mohurdar died after falling from his horse during a polo game on Friday in Tabriz-an incident believed to be due to the curses of the cleric Sheikh Ali Karaki. He held that position until his death. At some period he was also appointed governor of Qom, a particularly honorable position because of the location in the city of the tomb of Fatima, sister of the Eighth Imam. For a long time he is glimpsed in the annals, being at court, participating in campaigns, leading troops, and carrying out some delicate errands. For example, when the Shah”s favorite sister made a pilgrimage to Mashhad, he was assigned to accompany her. After Tahmasp moved the capital to Qazvin, the house of Shahgulu caliphs was opposite the Shah”s palace. He fell ill during a campaign against the Turkmens of Astrabad and died in July 1558.

Abdullah Khan, an Ustajl general, was a cousin of Shah Tahmasp and was also married to his sister. He was appointed governor of Shirvan in the fall of 1550, a position he retained until his death in 1566.

Yadigyar Khan Mohammed – Emir of Shah Tahmasp I of the Turkman tribe, ruler of the city of Saveh, died at the end of December 1561.

Ibrahim Khan – Emir of Shah Tahmasp I of the Zulkadar tribe, governor of Fars (1540-1555) and Astrabad (1557).

Ahmad Sultan was a Shamli warlord and governor of Sistan from 1544 to 1551.

Sevindik-bek, a gorchubashi of the Afshar tribe, died in 1562.

Mehinbanu Shahzadeh Sultanum, advisor and younger sister of the Shah, died in 1562.

In the Turkish series “The Magnificent Century” the role of Shah Tahmasp played Gokhan Alkan and Sermet Yesil.


  1. Тахмасп I
  2. Tahmasp I
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