ʿĀLAMĀRĀ-YE ʿABBĀSĪ, a Safavid chronicle written by Eskandar Beg Monšī (b. ca. 968/1560, d. ca. 1042/1632). The work, which is of great length (1,116 pages in the two-volume, closely printed edition published in Tehran, 1334-35 Š./1955-56), comprises a moqaddama on the origins of the Safavid house and the reigns of Shahs Esmāʿīl I, Ṭahmāsp I, Esmāʿīl II, and Moḥammad Ḵodābanda, and a detailed history of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I. The bulk of the work (ṣaḥīfas I and II; alternately called ṣaḥīfa I and ṣaḥīfa II, maqṣad i) was completed in 1025/1616. The remainder (called ṣaḥīfa III or ṣaḥīfa II, maqṣad ii) was completed in 1038/1629, the year of Shah ʿAbbās’s death. The chronicle known as the Ḏayl-e tārīḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿAbbāsī, which is a history of the reign of Shah Ṣafī, is largely by another hand, although Eskandar Beg may be the author of its first four years (see Storey, I/1, pp. 312-14, and V. Minorsky’s observations in BSOAS 10, 1940-42, pp. 540-41). The Tehran printed edition is based on the Tehran lithographed edition of 1314/1896-97; it reproduces the latter’s innumerable textual errors and with one exception makes no attempt to fill its many lacunae; the exception, maqālas 2-12 on the character and habits of Shah ʿAbbās, is filled from two mss. in the Maǰles Library (pp. 1099-116 of the printed text). Nearly all extant manuscripts of the ʿĀlamārā-ye ʿAbbāsī are defective, and most omit the eulogy to Abū Ṭāleb Mīrzā, the vizier of Shah ʿAbbās I and subsequently of Shah Ṣafī.
The ʿĀlamārā-ye ʿAbbāsī is without question the greatest work of Safavid historiography and one of the greatest Persian historiographical works of any age. J. R. Walsh (“The Historiography of Ottoman-Safavid Relations in the 16th and 17th Centuries,” Historians of the Middle East, ed. B. Lewis and P. M. Holt, London, 1962, p. 200, n. 8) goes even further; after noting how it totally dominates historiography for two centuries, he calls it one of the greatest of all Islamic historical works, “perfect within the limitations of its traditions.” A. K. S. Lambton (“Persian Biographical Literature,” ibid., pp. 147-48) has called attention to the great value of the biographical material in the ʿĀlamārā; not restricted to the ʿolamāʾ and odabāʾ (as is the case with the few chronicles of the period which contain obituary notices), it includes short biographies of amirs, viziers, finance officials, accountants, secretaries, etc.—in other words, of the men who were actually responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the Safavid administrative machine. A careful study of this biographical material can tell us much about the way in which the administration functioned.
One of the outstanding virtues of the ʿĀlamārā is its orderly arrangement and clarity of outline. Despite its length, not once does the author lose sight of its shape and proportion and, if he digresses from the main theme, he returns unerringly to the point where he left off. This makes E. G. Browne’s condemnation of the “dull and arduous” nature of the ʿĀlamārā and similar chronicles, with their “absence of any breadth of view or clearness of outline” (Lit. Hist. Persia IV, p. 107), all the more extraordinary. In choosing the ʿĀlamārā as typifying this genre of Safavid historiography, he could not have been wider of the mark. The “overwhelming mass of trivial details” that he found so repugnant is not only enormously important in itself, but brings to life the bare bones of historical fact and enables the historian of today to gain insights into the “inwardness” of the history of the period. The ʿĀlamārā contains passages of the finest dramatic narrative, and the text is enlivened by the author’s humorous and ironical comments on human foibles. His career in the Safavid royal secretariat enabled him to be an eyewitness of many of the events he describes, and this imparts freshness and verisimilitude to his narrative. Where he has not been an actual eyewitness, he assures us that he has done his best to obtain his information from the most reliable sources available. The style of the ʿĀlamārā, though ornate, is not so to the point where floridity obscures the meaning; indeed, apart from passages like the conventional invocations to spring which occur at the beginning of the account of each year’s events, the style is in general straightforward.
See also Storey, I/1, pp. 309-13, for details of the extant mss.
The text has been translated into English by R. M. Savory under the title The History of Shah ʿAbbas The Great, 2 vols., Persian Heritage Series 28, Boulder, 1978-79.
(R. M. Savory)
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: July 29, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, p. 796