PREVIOUS    previous dynasty next dynasty    NEXT

Safavid Dynasty 1501 - 1722
1501 - 1524
Shah Ismail I united all of Persia under Iranian leadership after some nine centuries of foreign or fragmented rule. Being a Shi'ite, he declared Shi'ism as the state religion and converted virtually all of Persia and some surrounding areas under his control from Sunnism to Shi'ism. Shi'ism became a medium for the Persians to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Islamic world, in particular the Sunni Ottomans. To ensure its continuation as the state religion, the Safavid kings in general supported the Shi'ite clergy.

1587 - 1629
The reign of Shah Abbas the Great marked the pinnacle of the Safavid dynasty. He developed a disciplined standing army and defeated the Ottomans. In 1598, he chose Esfahan as his capital. A supporter of the arts, especially architecture, he adorned Esfahan with some of the finest Islamic monuments in the world. He built a number of mosques, schools, bridges and a major bazaar. During his reign, Persian craftsmen and artists excelled in creating fine silks, cloths, porcelain, metalwork, calligraphy, miniatures and carpets.
Shah Abbas

Ali Qapu Palace.

Under Shah Abbas I, Iran prospered. The old Sufi bands, which had been formed into artificial tribal units for military purposes during the dynasty's formative period, were replaced by a standing army trained and equipped on European lines with the advice of Robert Sherley. Sherley was an English adventurer versed in artillery tactics who, accompanied by a party of cannon founders, reached Kazvin with his brother Anthony in 1598.
The bureaucracy was carefully reorganized, but the seeds of the sovereignty's weakness lay in the royal house itself, which lacked an established system of inheritance by primogeniture. A reigning shah's nearest and most acute objects of suspicion were his own sons. Among them, brother plotted against brother over who should succeed on their father's death. Intriguers, ambitious for influence in a subsequent reign, supported one prince against another. Shah Abbas did not adopt the Ottoman sultans' practice of eliminating royal males by murder (as a child he had been within a hair's breadth of being a victim of such a policy). Instead, he instituted the practice of immuring infant princes in palace gardens away from the promptings of intrigue and the world at large. As a result, his successors tended to be indecisive men, easily dominated by powerful religious dignitaries to whom the Safavids had accorded considerable influence in an attempt to make Shi'ism the State religion.

Shah Abbas was a patron of science and scientific achievements as well as of arts. Some of the greatest Iranian philosophers were living under his rule, Molla Sadra, Mir Damad, Moghaddas Ardebili, Sheikh Baha-e-Din Ameli, or Sheikh Bahai who was a great philosopher and scientist. He created a system of heating in a public bath that would provide enough warm water for people to bathe with the power of a single candle!

Hotel Shah Abbas (Esfahan)
1501 - 1722 :
The two contemporary Islamic rivals of the Safavids, the Ottomans in Anatolia and the Mughals in India, relied on Persian artisans and poets for much of their arts and literature. Persian was the language of choice in both of their courts. This preference is evident from their poems and miniature paintings whose texts were almost exclusively written in Persian. Persian influence was especially prevalent in India, where it was also the cultural and administrative language; it remained so until the colonization of India by the British. The Taj Mahal's principal architect was a Persian named Ustad Isad and its architectural style was significantly influenced by Persian designs.

1722 :
Mahmoud Khan, an Afghan chieftain and a vassal of the Safavids, attacked Persia and captured Esfahan with virtually no resistance, thus ending the Safavid dynasty.

PREVIOUS    previous dynasty next dynasty    NEXT