home | 16-17th centuries index


previous | next

The Safavids, Bloodletting and Shia Politics to 1629

Safavid shahs, Tahmasp, Isma'il II and Muhammad Khadabandeh, ruling in succession to 1587, expanded in the direction opposite from the Ottomans, as far as Transoxiana. And the Safavids turned again against Ottoman power and fought for control over Tabriz, Baghdad and Armenia.

These shahs tightened controls over their subjects, each district having its own Safavid leader, a Qizilbash chief, answerable to the Shah. In time of war the Qizilbash chiefs were responsible for providing soldiers for the shah's army and for collecting revenues to pay for war. And the local Qizilbash chiefs grew wealthy – Shia society not immune from the same temptations that had plagued their enemy, centuries before – the Umayyads.

The shahs created an ideological and judicial order as a part of their theocracy. Members of the order were scholar-priests known as ulama. The most learned of the Ulama achieved the rank of mujtahid, similar to the position to be known as ayatollah. In Safavid times, few reached this highest rank level, and those who did were allowed to give authoritative interpretations to questions of religious law.

With their self-esteem and power derived from their increased wealth, some local Qizilbash chiefs wished to have more freedom from the Shah's authority. They tried to convince Shah Khadabandeh that he should select a successor amenable to them. Some of these chiefs tried to reduce the chances of another choice by executing the heir, his mother and some other possible heirs within the royal family. As often happens, politics by murder was less than efficient. The younger brother of the murdered heir was secretly whisked away to Khurasan, and Qizilbash chiefs loyal to the royal family fought and defeated Qizilbash chiefs who were not, and full power was returned to the old dynasty of shahs. The younger brother of the murdered heir, Abbas, succeeded Khadabandeh in 1587, and he was to rule until 1629.


Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.