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The Imperial Stage . The Safavid Empire was established by Shah Ismail, who reigned from 1501 to 1524 AD. The Safavid Empire emerged in time of great conflict. Young Ismail had been driven into the swamps to avoid his family\'s enemies around the age of 7. Another 7 years later he confronted his f

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Safavid Empire

By: Alyssa Atkinson, Janna Browning,

Matt Salib, and Darryl Trickey

the imperial stage
The Imperial Stage

The Safavid Empire was established by Shah Ismail, who reigned from 1501 to 1524 AD. The Safavid Empire emerged in time of great conflict. Young Ismail had been driven into the swamps to avoid his family’s enemies around the age of 7. Another 7 years later he confronted his foes at the head of an army and claimed the Imperial Title of Shah.

the newborn empire
The Newborn Empire

The young ruler quickly was imposed as emperor at the head of his powerful army. He had a firm idea of what he wanted his empire to amount to, especially in his feeling about religion. He quickly imposed his ideals, sometimes through force, and did everything in his power to keep his empire tightly under his thumb.

political organization
Political Organization
  • Shah Ismail and his successors governed through careful use and spread of propaganda and religious beliefs.
  • The first thing he did during his reign was to declare that the official religion of his realm would be Twelver Shiism.
  • Shah Ismail and his successors carefully controlled accounts of their rise to power- and conveniently altered story when they felt it was necessary.
  • The tomb and shrine of Safi al-Din became the home of Shah Ismail’s family, the headquarters of his religious movement, and the center of a determined, deliberate conspiracy to win political power for his descendants.
twelver shiism
Twelver Shiism
  • The Safavids changed their religion several times in order to gain popular support before finally settling on a form of Shiism that appealed to the nomadic Turkish tribes moving into the area in the post-Mongol era.
  • Twelver Shiism held that there had been twelve infallible imams after Muhammad.
  • The twelfth imam had gone into hiding around 874 to escape persecution but the Twelver Shiites believed he was still alive and would one day return to take power and spread his true religion.
  • Safavid propaganda suggested that Ismail was himself the hidden imam, or even an incarnation of Allah.
  • The qizilbash (Turkish followers that wore a red hat with twelve pleats in memory of the twelve Shiite imams) readily accepted these claims because it resembled traditional Turkish conceptions of leadership.
safavid enemies
Safavid Enemies

Ismail’s religion created powerful enemies. The primary of these were the Sunni Ottomans. The Sunni Ottomans detested the Shiite Safavids and feared the spread of Safavid propaganda among the nomadic Turks in their own territory. When Selim the Grim (right) became a sultan, he launched a persecution of Shiites in the Ottoman empire and prepared for a full –scale invasion of Safavid territory.

On the plain of Chaldiran the qizilbash Calvary the fearlessly attacked the Ottoman line. They carried no firearms, for thought they knew about gunpowder technology, the saw the weapons as unreliable and unmanly. They Safavids suffered devastating casualties. The Ottomans lacked the resources to destroy the Safavid state entirely, and the two empires were caught in sporadic conflict for the next two years.

shah abbas the great
Shah Abbas the Great
  • Shah Abbas the Great fully revitalized the Safavid empire
  • He moved the capital to Isfahan
  • He encouraged trade with other lands
  • He reformed the administrative and military institutions and military institutions.
  • Increased the use of gunpowder weapons
  • Sought European assistance against the Ottomans and the Portuguese in the Persian gulf
  • He led the Safavids to numerous victories
  • He attacked and defeated the nomadic Uzbeks
  • Expelled the Portuguese from Hormuz
  • He harassed the Ottomans mercilessly in a series of wars from 1603 to the end of his reign.
  • His campaigns brought most of Northwestern Iran, the Caucasus, and Mesopotamia under Safavid rule
social characteristics
Social Characteristics
  • The people of the Safavid Empire were Shiites and were known as "red heads“ because they wore red caps with twelve folds.
  • The Safavid Empire was a mixed society of Iranian tribes and a minority of Turkish tribal tribes
  • The majority of the population were farmers or townspeople (such as merchants or artisans)
  • There was a large, wealthy middle class made of people rich from trade.
  • The state religion was Shiite Islam.
  • During the Golden Age of 1588 through 1629, under Shah Abbas I, there was an increased knowledge in science, medicine and mathematics
  • There was an even greater increase in artistic knowledge.
  • The Safavid Empire was most famous for its silk and carpet weavings.
social in women
Social in Women

Women were given considerable freedom in the Islamic state of Safavid. While not equal to men, the women played a large and important role in society. They were given rights granted to most women years later. This was partially caused by the influence of the Quran, which stated that women shall be subordinate to men but treated with respect. However, the Safavid empire treated women better that many other Islamic states.

Then again, men expressed their dominance of women by forcing them to wear a veil in public and a heavy cloth that covered their entire body. This was extremely uncomfortable because temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. Therefore, women often chose to stay home because they were free to wear whatever they wanted.

economic characteristics
Economic Characteristics
  • The Safavids were never as wealthy as their neighbors, the Ottomans and the Mughals.
  • However, the Safavids were successful in times in trade.
  • The shah (or King) played a large role success of trade - he watched closely over the manufacturing and trading activity, often visiting shops and factories to make sure everything was running smoothly -he constructed resting places on the caravan trails for traders who traveled by camel and horse, as most traders did - he also made sure these trails were free of thieves
  • The Safavid Empire was almost always at war against the Ottomans, the Mongols, the Uzbeks and sometimes the Portuguese for many reasons. One of these was the desire for more land, power, and therefore, more money
Safavid Decline
  • The Safavid Empire was held together in the early years by conquering new territory, and then by the need to defend it from the neighboring Ottoman Empire. But in the seventeenth century the Ottoman threat to the Safavids declined. The first result of this was that the military forces became less effective.
  • When their enemy was no longer much of an issue, the Safavid Shahs became corrupt. Power passed to the Shi'a ulama (a religious council of wise men) which eventually deposed the Shahs and proclaimed the world's first Islamic Republic in the eighteenth century. The ulama developed a theory that only a Mujtahid (one very learned in the Shari'ah) and one who has had a blameless life, could rule.
  • In 1726 an Afghan group destroyed the ruling dynasty. After the conquest, a division of powers was agreed upon between the Afghan Shahs and the Shi'a ulama. The Afghan Shahs controlled the state and foreign policy, and they could levy taxes and make secular laws. The ulama retained control of religious practice and enforced the Shari'ah in personal and family matters.

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Iran After the Safavid Empire
  • By this period the Empire was disintegrating, and for the next two centuries it lay in decay. Bandit chiefs and feudal lords plundered it at will, further weakening the Empire.
  • The rise of the Pahlavis (1925 -79) saw the reaffirmation of a strong central authority in Iran. The discovery of oil early in the twentieth century, and the British and American interst that came with it, determined the manner and position of the second Pahlavi Shah. The wealth from oil enabled him to head an wealthy and corrupt court.
  • The ulama tolerated the non-religious Shahs until the 1970s. They finally overthrew the monarchy in 1979. This led to power being exercised through the highest officials of the ulama, the Ayatollahs. Ayatollah Khomeini's challenge to the Shah's Royal authority confirmed a deep religious tradition in Iranian society and history
  • The Safavid Empire, even though it was driven and inspired by strong religious faith, quickly created the foundations of strong central government and administration.
  • The Safavids benefited from their geographical position at the centre of the trade routes of the ancient world. They became rich on the growing trade between Europe and the Islamic civilizations of central Asia and India.
  • Under Safavid rule eastern Persia became a great cultural centre.
  • During this period, painting, metalwork, textiles and carpets reached new heights of perfection.