ALESSANDRI, VINCENZO DEGLI, d. after 1595, Venetian secretary and diplomat, author of an important report on Safavid Persia. Between 1560 and 1570 he was a member of the Venetian chancellery in Constantinople, where he studied Turkish and became acquainted with the country. Elected notaro estraordinario of the Council of the Venetian Republic, in October, 1570, he was charged with a secret mission to Persia. The Venetians were engaged in the Cyprian war against the Ottomans, and the mission aimed at an alliance with the Safavid kingdom, urging it to intervention with the promise of an anti-Turkish mobilization by “all the Christian princes.” Alessandri completed his twenty-one-month journey on foot across Ottoman territory in the guise of a Turkish and Armenian merchant. In July, 1572, he reached Tabrīz, where he met the English envoy Thomas, and in August, Qazvīn, where the Persian royal camp and court were installed. With the help of some Armenian merchants from Jolfā, Alessandri managed to talk with the Safavid prince Solṭān Ḥaydar Mīrzā, but he failed to be received by Shah Ṭahmāsp. After a long and painful wait, Alessandri, having ascertained the indifference of the royal court towards his proposals (although the presents carried from Venice had not been refused), turned back empty-handed.
In September, 1574, Alessandri, who had previously dispatched several letters, presented an oral report on his mission to the Council of the Venetian Republic. The report dealt with matters witnessed by the author or related by “different trustworthy persons” and is almost harsh in tone and perhaps partial in its judgment. The written version had a wide circulation in the Italian and European chancelleries (handwritten copies exist in many archives), thus helping to shape public opinion on Persian matters.
The report first relates the genealogy and character of Shah Ṭahmāsp, then aged “sixty-four” and “of an almost melancholy constitution,” completely careless of the affairs of the country, pusillanimous, adverse to military ventures, greedy of “women and money,” and visionary. Discussion then proceeds to the Safavid princes Ḵodābanda Mīrzā, Esmāʿīl Mīrzā, and Solṭān Ḥaydar Mīrzā, as well as the royal court and the council of state, composed of fifty sultans or provincial chiefs. Persia is said to have fifty-two unwalled towns, dusty roads, bad houses, poor people, and ugly women. Because of the great Shiʿite veneration of the king, the people consider blessed “any family that is able to have some cloth or shoe that had belonged to him, or water where he had washed his own hands, which is used against the fever.” As to the state finances, revenue amounts to “three millions of gold” in taxes and victuals, while expenses supported by the royal treasury are merely the pay in kind (“clothes and rings”) given to 5,000 men of the body guard, consisting of Kurdish soldiers, “the best and finest people in that country.” The report also describes Tabrīz, the political position of Georgians and Kurds, and the Persian army, equipped with excellent harquebuses and horses. A critical edition and evaluation of the report is needed.
E. Alberi, Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato, ser. 3, II, Florence, 1844, pp. 103-27.
G. Berchet, La Repubblica di Venezia e la Persia, Torino, 1865, pp. 29-39 and 158-67.
M. Berengo in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Rome, 1960, II, p. 174, s.v.
(A. M. Piemontese)
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: July 29, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, pp. 825-826