ALLĀHVERDĪ KHAN (d.1022/1613), a Georgian ḡolām who rose to high office in the Safavid state. In order to counterbalance the power of the qizilbāš Turkman tribesmen, who constituted the Safavid military aristocracy, Shah ʿAbbās I created a standing army of Georgian, Armenian, and Circassian Christians taken prisoner in the course of campaigns in the Caucasus. These men, known as ḡolāmān-e ḵāṣṣa-ye šarīfa, were converted to Islam and trained for service in one of the new ḡolām regiments or in some branch of the royal household. In 997/1589, Allāhverdī Khan agreed to be party to the assassination of the kingmaker and wakīl Moršed-qolī Khan Ostāǰlū, whose excessive power could no longer be tolerated by the shah; for this service, he was rewarded by being made governor of Jorpādaqān near Isfahan, with the rank of sultan (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 401; tr. Savory, p. 578). After this, his rise to high office was rapid. In 1004/1595-96 we find him holding the office of qūllar-āqāsī, or commander of the ḡolām regiments (ibid., I, p. 515; tr., p. 690), an office which had been created by Shah ʿAbbās I (ibid., II, p. 1106; tr., p. 527) and was one of the five principal offices of state (see R. M. Savory, “Safavid Persia,” in Cambridge History of Islam, Cambridge, 1970, I, p. 419). In the same year, Allāhverdī Khan was appointed governor of Fārs (Eskandar Beg, I, p. 515; tr., p. 690). This appointment signaled a radical change of policy on the part of Shah ʿAbbās. Hitherto, all important provinces had been governed by qizilbāš amirs; by being made governor of Fārs, Allāhverdī Khan became the first ḡolām to attain equality of status with them. His appointment was also significant for another reason: it marked the inauguration of Shah ʿAbbās’s policy of converting mamālek or “state” provinces into ḵāṣṣa or “crown” provinces governed by intendants appointed directly by the Shah. The following year, 1005/1596-97, another governorship was granted to Allāhverdī khan, that of the province of Kohgīlūya, which was also brought under ḵāṣṣa administration (ibid., I, p. 525; tr. p. 701).
Allāhverdī Khan distinguished himself in action in Shah ʿAbbās’s great victory over the Uzbeks at Rebāṭ-e Parīān in Moḥarram, 1007/August, 1598, a victory which led to the recovery of Herat after ten years of Uzbek occupation. Shortly after this battle, Allāhverdī Khan, on orders from the shah, executed the qizilbāš amir Farhād Khan Qarāmānlū who, like Moršed-qolī Khan Ostāǰlū before him, had grown too powerful and was suspected of plotting against the shah (ibid., I, p. 574-76; tr., p. 762). By this act, Allāhverdī Khan became the most powerful man in the Safavid state after the shah. From 1008-09/1600 onwards, Allāhverdī Khan, in conjunction with Sir Robert Sherley, undertook the reorganization of the army, which meant among other things increasing the number of ḡolāms from 4,000 to 25,000 (L.-L. Bellan, Chah Abbas I, Paris, 1932, pp. 111ff.). In 1010/1601-02, Allāhverdī Khan was in charge of operations which resulted in the annexation of Bahrain to the Safavid empire (Eskandar Beg, II, pp. 614-16; tr., pp. 803-05), and from that date onwards he played a prominent part in all major campaigns on both the eastern and the western fronts. Prior to the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I, when the qizilbāš constituted the greater part of the Safavid army, the commander of the qizilbāš troops, termed amīr al-omarāʾ or qūṛčībāšī, had been the de facto commander-in-chief of the Safavid armed forces. However, after the creation of the ḡolām regiments, commanded by the qūllar-āqāsī, it became necessary to adopt a new rank to indicate the person who held supreme command of the army as a whole. The term first adopted was sardār-e laškar, which we find applied to Allāhverdī Khan as early as 1006/1597-98 (ibid., I, p. 539; tr., p. 719); subsequently, the ancient title of sepahsālār was revived and used for this purpose. The fact that the sardār-e laškar, and subsequently the sepahsālār-e Īrān, was superior in rank to the qūṛčībāšī, is not admitted, or even hinted at, by the Taḏkerat al-molūk, but a close reading of the Tārīḵ-eʿalāmārā-ye ʿAbbāsī shows that this was in fact the case.
Allāhverdī Khan died on 14 Rabīʿ II 1022/3 June 1613 (ibid., II, p. 871; tr., pp. 1083-84). In his obituary notice on Allāhverdī Khan, Eskandar Beg describes him as “one of the most powerful amirs to hold office under this dynasty. During his lifetime, he was responsible for the construction of many public buildings [including the bridge across the Zāyanda-rūd at Isfahan which bears his name] and charitable foundations. He was a man of great forbearance, modest and chaste.” Shah ʿAbbās demonstrated his genuine respect and affection for him by personally supervising the funeral arrangements, and by going to the khan’s house the day after his death to offer his personal condolences to his family (ibid., II, p. 871; tr., p. 1084).
Bibliography: Given in the text.
(R. M. Savory)
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: August 2, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, pp. 891-892