, SHAH ABU’L-MOẒAFFAR b. Shaikh Ḥaydar b. Shaikh Jonayd (1487-1524), founder of the Safavid dynasty. One of his first acts, the promulgation of the Eṯnā-ʿašarī rite of Shiʿism to be the official religion of the newly-created state, had profound consequences for the subsequent history of Persia.


ESMĀʿĪL I ṢAFAWĪ, SHAH ABU’L-MOẒAFFAR b. Shaikh Ḥaydar b. Shaikh Jonayd, founder of the Safavid dynasty, born on 25 Rajab 892/17 July 1487 in Ardabīl died on 19 Rajab 930/23 May 1524 near Tabrīz (Ḥabīb al-sīar, Tehran, IV, p. 428; MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fol. 304a; Qāżī Aḥmad, fol. 211b; Możṭar, ed., p. 608). The dates of his birth and death are recorded in the chronograms “ṭolūʿ-e nayyer-e Šāh Esmāʿīl” and “ḵosrow-e dīn,” rspectively (Ḥosaynī Estrābādī, pp. 32, 52).

i. Biography.

ii. His Poetry.



The reign of Esmāʿīl is one of the most important in the history of Persia. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, prior to his accession in 907/1501, Persia, since its conquest by the Arabs eight-and-a-half centuries earlier, had not existed as a separate entity but had been ruled by a succession of Arab caliphs, Turkish sultans, and Mongol khans. During the whole of this period, only under the Buyids (q.v.) did a substantial part of Persia come under Persian rule (334-447/945-1055). Secondly, one of his first acts, the promulgation of the Eṯnā-ʿašarī rite of Shiʿism to be the official religion of the newly-created state, had profound consequences for the subsequent history of Persia. This drastic step, which had no precedent in the history of Islamic states, was a logical one, given that it was the “dynamic ideology” (Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, p. 23) of extremist Shiʿism that had inspired his followers. It also had the political advantage of differentiating the nascent Safavid state from its powerful Sunni neighbors, the Ottoman empire to the west and the Uzbek confederation to the east. However, it introduced into the Persian body politic the virtual certainty of eventual conflict between the shah, the symbol of “secular” government, and the religious leaders, who considered all secular governments illegitimate and whose ultimate goal was theocratic government.

The rise of the Safavids. Shah Esmāʿīl came to power as the culmination of two centuries of promotion of the Safavid cause, initially through quiet propaganda carried on by the leaders of a local Sufi order in Gīlān, and ultimately through the militant and revolutionary activity by supporters of the Safavid family among the Turkman tribes of eastern Anatolia, the southern Caucasus, and elsewhere. The Safavid Order, named after its eponymous founder Shaikh Ṣafī-al-Dīn Esḥāq Ardabīlī, who in 700-701/1301 had assumed the leadership of the order formerly known as the Zāhedīya, first gave evidence of its ambition to achieve temporal power (salṭanat-e ṣūrī) under its leader Jonayd (851-64/1447-60), who was the first head of the Safavid Order to adopt the title “sultan,” indicative of temporal authority (Ḵoršāh, fol. 445b). At the time, Persia was divided between three rulers: the Qara Qoyunlu Jahānšāh (q.v.), who ruled over Azerbaijan, ʿErāq-e ʿAjam, ʿErāq-e ʿArab, Fārs, the shores of the ʿOmān sea, Kermān, Sarīr, Armenia, Georgia, and all the land up to the borders of Syria and Rūm; the Timurid ruler Abū Saʿīd, who ruled over Transoxiana, Turkestan up to the borders of Kāšḡar, Dašt-e Qepčāq, Kābol, Zābol, Māzandarān, and Khorasan, up to the borders of ʿErāq-e ʿAjam; and Malekšāh Yaḥyā Sīstānī, who was the hereditary ruler of Sīstān (Maṭlaʿ-e saʿdayn, ed. Šafīʿ, II, pp. 1212-13, 1317). Jahānšāh ordered Jonayd to disband his forces, depart from Ardabīl, and leave Jahanšāh’s dominions, and threatened that should he fail to comply with these demands, Ardabīl would be destroyed (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, p. 425; Możṭar, ed., pp. 35-38; MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fols. 18a, 19a). Jonayd fled, and was ultimately given sanctuary by Jahanšāh’s rival Uzun Ḥasan (q.v.), the chief of the Aq Qoyunlu confederation, with whom he stayed for three years and forged an alliance by marrying Uzun Ḥasan’s sister Ḵadīja Begom. Jonayd was killed in battle against the forces of the Šīrvanšāh Ḵalīl-Allāh in Jomādā I 864/March 1460 (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, p. 425, 428; Możṭar, ed., pp. 38-40; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, I, pp. 407-9; Ḵonjī, pp. 266-69; Eskandar Beg, pp. 17-18, tr., I, pp. 29-31; Hinz, p. 48; Roemer, in Camb. Hist. Iran VII, pp. 201-2) and was succeeded by his son Ḥaydar, who continued the alliance with the Aq Qoyunlu by marrying Ḥalīma Begī Āḡā (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 425, 428) or Ḥalima Begom, also known as ʿĀlamšāh Begom (Możṭar, ed., p. 41; Eskandar Beg, p. 19, tr., I, p. 31; MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fol. 20b), or Marta (Sarwar, p. 24, f. 22). Ḥalīma Begom’s mother, Despina Ḵātūn, the wife of Uzun Ḥasan, was the daughter of Calo Johannes, the penultimate Christian emperor of Trebizond (Angiolello and Ramusio, p. 73). Like his father Jonayd, Ḥaydar aspired to temporal power as well as spiritual: “His secret aspiration was to have dominion over territories and subjects . . . inwardly, following the example of shaikhs and men of God, he walked the path of spiritual guidance and defence of the faith; outwardly, he was a leader sitting on the throne in the manner of princes” (Eskandar Beg, p. 19, tr., p. 31).

Ḥaydar’s political aspirations meant that the Safavid-Aq Qoyunlu alliance was eventually doomed to break down, because the whole political situation in Persia was changing. In 872/1467 Uzun Ḥasan had defeated and killed the Qara Qoyunlu chief Jahānšāh, and the Qara Qoyunlu empire disintegrated. The following year, the Timurid prince Abū Saʿīd, who had marched into Azerbaijan, was also defeated by Uzun Ḥasan and put to death (Abū Bakr Ṭehrānī, II, pp. 406-33, 471-93; Maṭlaʿ-e saʿdayn, ed., Šafīʿ, II/2, pp. 1318-19, 1349 ff.; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 86-87, 90-93). Uzun Ḥasan was now the sole ruler of Persia with the exception of Khorasan and, until his death in 882/1478, the mariage de convenance with the Safavids was not dissolved. After his death, however, the Aq Qoyunlu empire in turn broke up as warring chiefs vied for supremacy. Ḥaydar and his militant Sufi followers were now a force to be reckoned with. Ḥaydar, instructed in a dream by the Imam ʿAlī, had devised for his followers a distinctive form of headgear known as the Ḥaydarī hat (tāj-e ḥaydarī). It consisted of a turban or hat (kolāh) with twelve gores commemorating the Twelve Imams of the Eṯnā-ʿašarī Shiʿites, surmounted by a scarlet or crimson spike or baton (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 426-27; Możṭar, ed., pp. 41-42; Eskandar Beg, p. 19, tr., p. 31; Šokrī, ed., p. 30; Wāla, p. 53; Schmitz). As a result, they became known as “redheads” (qezelbāš), a term of derision applied to them by the Ottomans but adopted as a mark of pride by the qezelbāš.

Probably calculating that his forces were not strong enough to try conclusions with the Aq Qoyunlu (for the composition of his army, see Ḵonjī, p. 274, tr. Minorsky in Taḏkerat-al-molūk, pp. 190-91), Ḥaydar led them on a razzia against the “infidels” of Circassia and Daḡestān. This involved crossing the territory of the Šīrvānšāh Farroḵ-yasār, who appealed for help to his son-in-law, the Aq Qoyunlu chief Yaʿqūb, and the combined Aq Qoyunlu and the Šīrvānī forces defeated Ḥaydar on 29 Rajab 893/9 July 1488 at Ṭabarsarān near Darband; Ḥaydar was killed in battle (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 432-34; Ḵonjī, pp. 280-307; MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fol. 21a-b; Możṭar, ed., pp. 43-47; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, I, pp. 615-19; Eskandar Beg, p. 19, tr., p. 32; Wāla, pp. 54-57; Zāhedī, p. 68).

For the second time in little more than a quarter of a century, the Safavid movement lost its leader, but did not fade into oblivion. Of the three sons of Ḥaydar, the eldest, Sultan ʿAlī, succeeded him as head of the Safavid Order, but ʿAlī and his two brothers, Ebrāhīm and the youthful Esmāʿīl, were arrested with their mother in Ardabīl, and imprisoned in the Eṣṭaḵr fortress in Fārs (896/1491; Qāżī Ḡaffārī, fol. 199a; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 435-36; Możṭar, ed., pp. 47-48; Wāla, pp. 57-59; Ḥosaynī Estrābādī, p. 28). In Šawwāl 898/August 1493, they were released from incarceration by Rostam, one of the contestants for the Aq Qoyunlu succession, who made use of the military support of their followers against one of his rivals (Możṭar, ed., pp. 51-55; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 439-40; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, I, pp. 632-35; Ḥosaynī Estrābādī, p. 29). Alarmed by the obvious strength of this support, however, he rearrested them, intending to put Sultan ʿAlī to death and to slaughter his adherents in Tabrīz and Ardabīl. ʿAlī and his brothers escaped and made for Ardabīl, the nerve center of the Safavid movement. Rostam despatched troops in their pursuit; the brothers were overtaken, and in the ensuing battle ʿAlī was killed. Before the battle, he transferred his authority as leader of the Safavid Order to his younger brother Esmāʿīl (MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fols. 28b-29a; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 440-42; Możṭar, ed., pp. 55-58; Eskandar Beg, pp. 21-24, tr., pp. 35-39; Wāla, pp. 60-65). This is the traditional Safavid account. A. H. Morton quotes the Afżal al-tawārīkò of Fażlī Eṣfahānī to the effect that ʿAlī deputed the function of leadership (eršād) to his elder brother Ebrāhīm, and “matters of military action and kingship” to Esmāʿīl (p. 34). It seems likely that Ebrāhīm was passed over “because of his personal character rather than on ideological grounds” (p. 86); this is corroborated by Ḵᵛāndamīr (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, p. 442, cf. Możṭar, ed., p. 64), who states that a few months later Ebrāhīm removed the Ḥaydarī hat of the Ṣafawī Order, placed a Turkman ṭāqīa on his head, and returned to Ardabīl from Gīlān, where he and Esmāʿīl had taken refuge. Eskandar Beg attributes this to Ebrāhīm’s dervish-like mentality and his overwhelming desire to see his mother (p. 25, tr., p. 40). Be that as it may, Ebrāhīm was virtually effaced from most Safavid chronicles. For example, Eskandar Beg, who significantly places the name of Esmāʿīl Mīrzā before that of Ebrāhīm, says that Ḥaydar instructed Ebrāhīm to see that the other brothers accompanied Esmāʿīl to Gīlān, but “their subsequent history has not been recorded,” and, “with the exception of ʿAlī, the author has not been able to discover any information about the other brothers” (Eskandar Beg, MS Or. H13, fol. 21b; tr., pp. 33-34). The time and place of Ebrāhīm’s death are uncertain.

The Safavid propaganda (daʿwa). What is clear is that Esmāʿīl reached sanctuary in Gīlān at the court of the local ruler Kār Kīā Mīrzā. Esmāʿīl was then seven years old. Five years later, when he was twelve (905/1499), he emerged from the forest of Gīlān to make his bid for power in Persia. Two years after that, when he was still only fourteen, he was crowned Shah at Tabrīz (906-7/1501; Qāżī Aḥmad, p. 85; Możṭar, ed., pp. 145-46). Though he was the focal point of the Safavid revolutionary movement, his youth must have precluded him from being the driving force in planning the final stages of this revolution. The driving force consisted of a closely-knit group of devoted qezelbāš followers known as the ahl-e eḵteṣāṣ (Savory, 1987, X, p. 234). Throughout his five years of hiding in Gīlān, Esmāʿīl had kept in touch with his disciples through a network of officers termed ḵalīfa, abdāl, dada, ḵādem, and pīra, all under the command of the ḵalīfat al-ḵolafā (Taḏkerat al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, comm., pp. 125-26 and p. 125, nn. 4-5; Savory, 1987, X, pp. 226 ff.). The function of this network was to disseminate the propaganda (daʿwa) designed to win adherents to the Safavid cause among the qezelbāš Turkman tribes of Anatolia, southern Caucasus, and Azerbaijan. The original basis of this daʿwa was the traditional relationship between a Sufi shaikh in his capacity as spiritual director (moršed) and his disciples (morīds), a relationship which demanded the unquestioning obedience of the morīd to the orders of his moršed. In the last half of the 9th/15th century, however, the Safavid daʿwa incorporated many antinomian and extremist doctrines characteristic of ḡolāt groups in general (see Hodgson). According to Ḵonjī, who was hostile to the Safavid cause, Jonayd’s morīds openly called him “God (elāh), and his son, Son of God (ebn Allāh) . . . in his praise, they said “he is the Living One, there is no God but he” (p. 272, tr., p. 57). In the time of Ḥaydar’s succession as the head of the Safavid Order, the ḵolafā “came from every direction and foolishly announced the glad tidings of his divinity” (olūhīyat; Ḵonjī, p. 273, tr., p. 57). To make this daʿwa more effective, Esmāʿīl addressed to his Turkman followers simple verses in the Azeri dialect of Turkish, using the pen name (taḵalloṣ) of Ḵaṭāʾī (see ii). These poems provide incontrovertible proof that Esmāʿīl encouraged his disciplesto consider him a divine incarnation (see Minorsky). The heady brew of this daʿwa produced in Esmāʿīl’s followers a fanatical devotion to their leader that is commented on with astonishment by contemporary Italian merchants visiting Persia (e.g., Angiolello and Ramusio, p. 206).

If his role as moršed-e kāmel enabled the Safavid leader to command absolute obedience from his followers, and if their belief in him as a quasi-divine person caused them to believe him immortal, the third important element of Safavid daʿwa required them to believe in his infallibility. In Eṯnā-ʿašarī political theory, infallibility, or sinlessness, or inerrancy (ʿeṣma) has always been a characteristic of the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi. “To ignore or disobey the divinely-invested Imam was infidelity equal to ignoring or disobeying the prophet” (Madelung, p. 1166). The Imam was regarded by Eṯnā-ʿašarī Shiʿites as the leader of the community; consequently, when the Twelfth Imam disappeared from earth in the year 260/873-74, the community was left without direction. For a time, a series of wakīls (vicegerents) acted on behalf of the Hidden Imam, but when the fourth of these wakīlsdied in 329/940-41 without designating a successor, the community entered the period known as the ḡaybat-e kobrā, or “the greater occultation,” which continues until the present day (see ḠAYBA). In the course of the centuries, it gradually became accepted that, in the absence of the Hidden Imam, those persons most learned in Shiʿite religious law, the jurisprudents (foqahā), of whom the highest in rank were the mojtaheds, should act as his deputies (nāʾebs) or representatives on earth.

When the Safavids came to power, they rested their authority inter alia on the divine right of kings traditionally claimed by Persian monarchs. Additionally, by claiming the function of deputyship (nīāba) for themselves by virtue of their alleged descent, in the male line, from Imam Mūsā al-Kāẓem, they came into conflict with the mojtaheds, because “the establishment of any temporal authority other than the Imām’s was a ‘usurpation’ of the constitutional right of the Imām” (Sachedina, p.102). The rivalry between the Safavid shahs and the mojtaheds came into the open even before the establishment of the Safavid state. Ḵᵛānsārī records the anger of the great 9th/15th theologian, philosopher and jurist Jalāl-al-Dīn Moḥammad Davānī (q.v.), when he asked his students: “Who is the imam of the age?” and they replied: “Shah Esmāʿīl!” (apud Mazzoui, p. 85). Davānī is “said to have rejected Shah Esmāʿīl’s messianic claims” (Newman, p. 133).

The establishment of the Safavid state and the consolidation of Safavid power in Persia. In 906/1500 Esmāʿīl mobilized at Arzenjān a force of 7,000 Turkman tribesmen from the qezelbāš tribes of Ostājlū, Rūmlū, Takkalū, Ḏu’l-Qadar, Afšār, Qājār, and Varsāq (MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fol. 53b; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, II, p. 61). These men were long time Sufi disciples and believers (morīdān o moʿtaqedān-e ṣūfīya-ye qadīm; Ḵoršāh, fol. 446b).After blooding his forces in a campaign in Šarvān/Šīrvān, in which the Šīrvānšāh Farroḵ-yasār was killed, thus avenging the deaths of his father Ḥaydar and his grandfather Jonayd, Esmāʿīl decisively defeated Alvand Aq Qoyunlu’s army (which was more than four times the size of his own) at the battle of Ṣarūr (MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fols. 59a-b; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Seddon, p. 590, ed. Navāʾī, II, pp. 61-68), and shortly afterwards marched into Tabrīz. The chronogram “šamšīrzan” (907; Możṭar, ed., p. 150) records the date of his capturing Tabrīz and the foundation of the Safavid dynasty. Although initially ruler of Azerbaijan only, by the year 916/1510 Esmāʿīl was master of the whole of Persia, having crushed the residual forces of the Aq Qoyunlu and driven the Uzbeks out of the northeastern frontier province of Khorasan, following his great victory over Moḥammad Šībānī (Šaybak) Khan at Marv on 30 Šaʿbān 916/2 December 1510, recorded in the chronogram “fatḥ-e šāh-e dīn-panāh” (ʿAbdī Beg, pp. 36-40, 49-50; MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fols. 187b-89a; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 446-68, 506-14; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, II, pp. 69-163; Eskandar Beg, pp. 25-28, 36-39, tr. , pp. 40-45, 58-64; Możṭar, ed., pp. 83-150, 354-83; Wāla, pp. 102-24, 181-97). This victory, however, did not solve the problem of the defense of the northeastern frontier against Uzbek incursions, and Esmāʿīl’s hopes of incorporating Transoxania into his dominions were dashed two years later. The Timurid prince Ẓahīr-al-Dīn Moḥammad Bābor had been driven out of Bukhara and Samarqand by Moḥammad Šībānī Khan, and had appealed to Esmāʿīl for help, promising in return to have coins minted in Esmāʿīl’s name should Samarqand be recaptured. Initially, all went well. With the aid of a qezelbāš force, Bābor recaptured Samarqand in Rajab 917/October 1511, and kept his promise in regard to the coinage (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, p. 24; Możṭar, ed., pp. 413-14), but at the battle of Ḡojdovān on 3 Ramażān 918/12 November 1512, this army was routed by the Uzbeks due to the defection of many of the qezelbāš on the battlefield; the reason for this defection was their resentment at being placed under the command of the Persian officer Najm-e Ṯānī Amīr Yār Aḥmad Eṣfahānī (Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Seddon, p. 133, ed. Navāʾī, II, pp. 166-75; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 523-30; Możṭar, ed., pp. 412-34; Eskandar Beg, pp. 39-41, tr., pp. 64-67; Bābor-nāma, tr., Beveridge, pp. 352-55). After this debacle, Bābor abandoned his Transoxanian ambitions and retreated into northern India, where in 932/1526 he founded the Mughal dynasty.

The principal stages in the extension of Safavid power in Persia were: the conquest of Fārs and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam (908-9/1503); Māzandarān, Gorgān, and Yazd (909/1504); Dīārbakr (911-13/1505-7); and Šīrvān (915/1508-9). In 914/1508 the local rulers of Ḵūzestān, Lorestān, and Kordestān acknowledged his suzerainty, and in the same year, Esmāʿīl subjugated the last remaining territory under Aq Qoyunlu control by overrunning ʿErāq-e ʿAjam and capturing Baghdad (for details of all these campaigns, see Savory, III, 1987, pp. 71-80; Pārsādūst, pp. 277-346). By the capture of Baghdad, Esmāʿīl extended Safavid rule outside Persia proper into “L’Iran extérieur.”

Problems facing Esmāʿīl after the establishment of the Safavid state. Like all leaders of successful revolutionary movements throughout history, Esmāʿīl was faced with the problem of how to curb the fervor and revolutionary excesses of those who had brought him to power. The degree of fanaticism produced in his followers by the Safavid daʿwa is attested in the Persian sources. One of the most bitter campaigns waged by Esmāʿīl in the course of his conquest of Persia was fought in 908/1503-4 against Amīr Ḥosayn Kīā Čolāvī, the ruler of Fīrūzkūh and Damāvand, who had taken advantage of the collapse of the Aq Qoyunlu empire to extend his control over Ḵᵛār, Semnān, and Ray (Ḵoršāh, fol. 450b), and to raid the borders of ʿErāq-e ʿAjam (MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fol. 96b). When Amīr Ḥosayn finally capitulated (27 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 909/12 May 1504) after Esmāʿīl had cut off the water supply to the fort of Ostā in which he had taken refuge, he was placed in an iron cage which he himself had devised for the purpose of confining therein “any of the sultans of Persia who might be taken prisoner by him” (MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fols. 102a-b; Ḥasan Rūmlū, II, p. 100-9; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 476-80; Możṭar, ed., pp. 192-210; Eskandar Beg, pp. 29-31, tr., pp. 47-50; ʿAbdī Beg, pp. 42-43; Wāla, pp. 133-43). Amīr Ḥosayn managed to commit suicide en route to Isfahan, but two of his officers were not so lucky. They were roasted on spits (MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fol. 104b; Możṭar, ed., p. 209; Wāla, p. 142), and eaten as kabob as a warning to others (Šarāf-al-Dīn Bedlīsī, p. 136; Ḵoršāh, fol. 451a, adds that Esmāʿīl gave the order: “whoever is a believer (as jomla-ye moʿtaqedān ast), let him eat a morsel of this kabob.” One may speculate that the savagery of the punishment meted out in this instance stemmed from Esmāʿīl’s perception that Amīr Ḥosayn was not only a formidable political rival but also a threat on the religious plane too, because he was a professed Shiʿite and had always boasted of his devotion to the house of the immaculate Imams (Ḵoršāh, fol. 450b).

The Sufi organization headed by the ḵalīfat-al-ḵolafā, who was regarded as the deputy (nāʾeb) of the moršed-e kāmel, was still active in eastern Anatolia. From time to time, fresh recruits to the Safavid cause would arrive in Persia, and even during the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsb (930-84/1524-76) new contingents of Sufis came from Dīārbakr and Anatolia. These Sufis obeyed the orders of the ḵalīfat-al-kolafā as they would those of the shah (Falsafī, Zendagānī I, p. 182), and consequently this powerful officer constituted a potential threat to the authority of the Shah himself. Esmāʿīl’s short-term solution to this problem was to despatch these Sufis warriors (ḡāzīs) on raids into Ottoman territory. The most large-scale of these raids was that led by Nūr-ʿAlī Ḵalīfa Rūmlū, in 918/1512. The ḡāzīs penetrated into Anatolia as far as Toqāt, which they burned, and they routed an Ottoman force under Senān Pāšā, which had been sent in pursuit of them (Możṭar, ed., pp. 475-80; Ḥasan Rūmlū, II, pp. 175-77; Wāla, pp. 222-24; Savory, 1987, III, pp. 82-83). Ironically, it was raids like these that were one of the factors that instigated the Ottoman sultan Salīm/Selim I to invade Persia two years later.

The second major problem facing Esmāʿīl was how to convert a nominally Sunni population to Eṯnā-ʿašarī Shiʿism. To achieve this, and, more important, to maintain political control over a religious institution which might otherwise have challenged his authority, he made the head of the religious institution (ṣadr) answerable to him personally. The third important problem faced by Esmāʿīl after the establishment of the Safavid state was how to bridge the gap between the two major ethnic groups in that state: the qezelbāš Turkmans, the “men of the sword” of classical Islamic society whose military prowess had brought him to power, and the Persian elements, the “men of the pen,” who filled the ranks of the bureaucracy and the religious establishment in the Safavid state as they had done for centuries under previous rulers of Persia, be they Arabs, Turks, Mongols, or Turkmans. As Minorsky put it, friction between these two groups was inevitable, because the qezelbāš “were no party to the national Persian tradition. Like oil and water, the Turkmans did not mix freely, and the dual character of the population profoundly affected both the military and civil administration of Persia” (Taḏkerat-al-molūk, tr. Minorsky, comm., p. 188). Esmāʿīl’s solution to this problem was the creation of the office of wakīl-e nafs-e nafīs-e homāyūn, that is, vicegerent or deputy of the shah in both his religious capacity as moršed-e kāmel of the Safavid Sufi Order, and as Shah, or “temporal” ruler of the state (for full details, see Savory, 1987, IV, pp. 93 ff.). The fact that the first person chosen to hold this office, Ḥosayn Beg Šāmlū, was one of the ahl-e eḵteṣāṣ and the lala (guardian, mentor, tutor) of Esmāʿīl during his childhood in Gīlān, is of the greatest significance, because Ḥosayn Beg was a qezelbāš officer. This experiment did not work, because the officer in question became too powerful, and was dismissed by Esmāʿīl in 914/1508. Esmāʿīl then appointed a Persian to this office, but this policy, in which Esmāʿīl persisted despite the overt resentment and hostility of the qezelbāš, was even less successful. Between 1508 and 1524, the year of Esmāʿīl’s death, the shah appointed five successive Persians to the office of wakīl. Of the five, the first died a year or so after his appointment, and one chronicle makes the significant statement that he “weakened the position of the Turks” (Ḵoršāh, fol. 453b). Qezelbāš resentment against any weakening of their dominant position in the Safavid administrative system came to a head under his successor, Najm-e Ṯānī. When the latter was placed in command of a Safavid army in Transoxiana, the qezelbāš, considering it a dishonor to be obliged to serve under him, deserted him on the battlefield with the result that he was slain. The third Persian wakīl was killed at the battle of Čalderān in 920/1514. In his two years in office, he seems to have managed to avoid confrontation with the qezelbāš. The fourth was murdered by the qezelbāš, and the fifth was put to death by them (for full details, see Savory, 1987, XV, pp. 186-88). The fact that Esmāʿīl held to his course of appointing Persian wakīls can only mean that his fear of the danger of concentrating all power in the hands of a qezelbāš amir was paramount, and the seizure of control of the state by the qezelbāš immediately after his death demonstrates that the danger was a very real one.

War with the Ottomans and its aftermath. The active recruitment of support for the Safavid cause among the Turkman tribes of eastern Anatolia, among tribesmen who were Ottoman subjects, had inevitably placed the Ottoman empire and the Safavid state on a collision course. “As orthodox or Sunni Muslims, the Ottomans had reason to view with alarm the progress of Shīʿī ideas in the territories under their control, but there was also a grave political danger that the Ṣafawīya, if allowed to extend its influence still further, might bring about the transfer of large areas in Asia Minor from Ottoman to Persian allegiance” (Parry, p. 1120).

To counter this danger, Sultan Bāyazīd in 907-8/1502 deported many Shiʿites from Anatolia to the Morea. The invasion of Dīārbakr by Esmāʿīl in 913/1507 was regarded by the Ottomans as a “daring violation of Ottoman sovereignty.” In 916/1511, there was a massive pro-Safavid uprising among the Takkalū (Tekke-īlī) qezelbāš tribe in southern Anatolia, and an imperial army sent to put down this rebellion was defeated (İnalcık, p. 127). The large-scale incursion into eastern Anatolia by Safavid ḡāzīs under Nūr-ʿAlī Ḵalīfa coincided with the accession of Sultan Salīm I (918/1512), and was the casus belli which led to Salīm’s decision to invade Persia (Pārsādūst, pp. 387-96).

Before the campaign began, Salīm put to death all his relatives who might rebel against him in his absence. These included nephews and his brother Aḥmad. The only survivor was Aḥmad’s son, Morād, who fled to Persia and was given sanctuary by Esmāʿīl; he died in Isfahan (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 530-31; Możṭar, ed., pp. 485-87; Haṟsan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, II, pp. 177-78). As another precaution against an uprising in his rear, “he proscribed Shiʿism in his dominions and massacred all its adherents on whom he could lay hands” (Gibb and Bowen, p. 189); 40,000 Shiʿites are said to have been slaughtered (Edrīs Bedlīsī, fols. 68b-70b), but this is probably a conventional figure denoting a large number. Leaving Adrianople on 22 Moḥarram 920/19 March 1514, Salīm marched through Anatolia and reached the plain of Čālderān, northwest of Ḵoy, on 1 Rajab 920/22 August 1514, and the decisive battle was fought there the following day (İnalcık, p. 128; Figure 1). The Persian and Ottoman historians gave widely differing figures for the size of the opposing armies, but most are agreed that the Ottoman army was at least double the size of that of Esmāʿīl. The most credible figures are those given by Ḥakīm-al-Din Edrīs Bedlīsī according to whom the Ottomans had 100,000 and the Safavids 40,000 men (Edrīs Bedlīsī, fol. 84a; for details of the battle, see Walsh, pp. 7-8 and McCaffrey, IV, pp. 656-58; Falsafī, 1332 Š./1953; Pārsādūst, pp. 402-510). The Ottomans inflicted a crushing defeat on the Safavid army, the Ottoman artillery in particular doing terrible execution among the qezelbāš cavalry. Casualties were heavy among both sides. After his victory, Salīm marched to Tabrīz, the Safavid capital, which he occupied without resistance on 15 Rajab 920/5 September 1514. Salīm’s plan was to winter at Tabrīz and complete the conquest of Persia the following spring. However, a mutiny among his officers who refused to spend the winter at Tabrīz forced him to withdraw across territory laid waste by the Safavid forces, eight days later on 23 Rajab 920/13 September 1514 (Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 545-48; Możṭar, ed., pp. 506-7; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, II, pp. 187-97; ʿAbdī Beg, pp. 54-55; Wāla, pp. 242-43; Edrīs Bedlīsī, fols. 94b-95a; Sarwar, pp. 82 and n. 10).

Contemporary commentators were well aware of the crucial nature of the battle of Čalderān. As Caterino Zeno observed: “If the Turk had been beaten, the power of Esmāʿīl would have become greater than that of Tamerlane’s, as by fame alone of such a victory he would have made himself absolute lord of the East” (p. 61). But dis aliter visum. Eskandar Beg, writing about a century after the event, offered the following, interesting, but unconvincing, rationale for the Safavid defeat: “Without doubt, God, in his most excellent wisdom, had decreed that Shah Esmāʿīl should suffer a reverse at the battle of Čālderān, for had he been victorious in this battle too, there would have been a danger that the belief and faith of the unsophisticated qezelbāš in the authority of the shah would have reached such heights that their feet might have strayed from the straight path of religious faith and belief, and they might have fallen into serious error” (MS Or. H13, fols. 40b-41a, tr., pp. 71-72).

The problem with this rationale is that, as far as the Ottomans, and Sunni Muslims in general, were concerned, the qezelbāš “had strayed from the straight path of religious faith” long before Čālderān. Not only were the ranks of the qezelbāš decimated by this defeat and the survivors scattered, but an immediate result was the annexation by the Ottomans of the province of Dīārbakr and the region of Marʿaš and Albestān (Sarwar, pp. 83-85).

More serious than the loss of men and territory, however, was the psychological effect of the defeat on Esmāʿīl. Moreover, his special relationship with the qezelbāš speedily unraveled. The apotheosis of Esmāʿīl by the Safavid daʿwa had rendered him, if not immortal, at least invincible, in the eyes of the qezelbāš, and Esmāʿīl himself subscribed to that view. His “defeat at Čalderān therefore had a profound effect on Esmāʿīl’s character and behavior; his egotism and arrogance were changed to despair and dejection” (Falsafī, 1332 Š./1953, p. 121). Esmāʿīl went into mourning after Čalderān. He wore black clothes and a black turban, and ordered all sayyeds to do the same. His military standards were also dyed black.

Two of Esmāʿīl’s wives, Behrūza Ḵānom and Tājlū Ḵānom, were taken prisoner at Čalderān (Falsafī, 1332 Š./1953, pp. 106-9). The latter, whose title of honor (laqab) was Begom Mawṣellū, was a granddaughter of Yaʿqūb Aq Qoyunlu. According to Angiolello and Ramusio (p. 106), Esmāʿīl married Tājlū Ḵānom after defeating Sultan Morād Aq Qoyunlu in 908/1503, but according to Bodāq Monšī Qazvīnī (fol. 286b; Pārsādūst, p. 478), she was the wife of Amīr Ḥosayn Kīā Čolāvī, and Esmāʿīl took her into his harem after the death of Amīr Ḥosayn in 909/1504. All sources agree that she became Esmāʿīl’s favorite wife. She was the mother of Ṭahmāsb Mīrzā, the future Shah Ṭahmāsb, and Bahrām Mīrzā (Sümer, p. 101; Pārsādūst, pp. 478-80). Most sources agree that she was present at the battle of Čalderān, was taken prisoner by the Ottomans, and was given by Sultan Salīm to one of his nobles, though there are two variant traditions regarding her subsequent fate. According to one recorded by Falsafī, Tājlū Ḵānom obtained her ransom with a pair of ruby earrings, and was eventually found wandering blindly through Azerbaijan by a Safavid officer called Mīrzā Šāh-Ḥosayn Eṣfahānī, who escorted her to Esmāʿīl and was rewarded by the shah by being appointed vizier (Falsafī, 1332 Š./1953, pp. 106-9; Šokrī, ed., p. 501; Możṭar, ed., p. 509). Bodāq Qazvīnī asserts that Tājlū Ḵānom remained Esmāʿīl’s wife during his lifetime, and had power to appoint and dismiss amirs and viziers, and was for a long time the supreme authority (moḵtār) in the harem (fol. 286b). The other tradition states that Salīm refused to surrender her, and gave her to Tājīzāda Jaʿfar Bey, the chief military judge of Anatolia (Ṣadr-al-Dīn Efendi, fol. 75a, cited by Pierce, p. 37). The two traditions can perhaps be reconciled if we assume that it was Behrūza Ḵānom, Esmāʿīl’s wife by legal contract (zan-e ʿaqdī), who remained in Ottoman custody, and that Tājlū Ḵānom did return to Persia, because on 28 Šaʿbān 923/15 September 1517, three years after Čalderān, she bore Esmāʿīl a second son, Bahrām Mīrzā (q.v.; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, p. 556; MS London, British Library, Or. 3248, fol. 264a; Możṭar, ed., 528; Wāla, p. 267).

For the remaining years of his life, Esmāʿīl never again led his troops into battle, despite the loss during that period of Balḵ (922/1516-17) and Qandahār (928/1522) to the Mughals, and the near loss of Herāt to the Uzbeks in 927/1520 and 930/1523 (Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Seddon, pp. 162, 167-70, ed. Navāʾī, II, pp. 211, 220-23). He abandoned himself to drunken debauchery (Ḵoršāh, fol. 462a; Ḥabīb al-sīar IV, pp. 554, 558; Eskandar Beg, p. 44, tr., pp. 73-74). The reaction of the qezelbāš was one of disillusionment. The special bond between moršed and morīd had snapped, and with it had disappeared the unquestioning obedience due to the moršed on the part of the morīd. Henceforth, the qezelbāš reverted to their former role of unruly barons, pursuing the interests of themselves and their tribes only, and no longer inspired by any overarching ideology.

After his defeat, however, Esmāʿīl did explore the possibility of alliance with European powers, with the object of attacking the Ottomans on two fronts. In 921-22/1516, a Maronite monk named Petrus de Monte Libano arrived in Persia as an ambassador from Louis II, king of Hungary, and about the same time Esmāʿīl also received an envoy from Charles, king of Spain. Esmāʿīl’s replies to those two monarchs are not extant, but in 1523 he sent a letter in Latin to Charles (Lanz, pp. 52-53). In this letter Esmāʿīl complained that the Christian powers, instead of combining to fight the Turks, were squabbling among themselves; he urged Charles to mobilize his forces and attack the Turks. Charles’s reply, dated February 1529, was still addressed to Esmāʿīl, though the latter had been dead for five years and he had been succeeded by Shah Ṭahmāsb. The slowness of communications between Asia and Europe militated against the execution of any concerted and coordinated action against the Ottomans by Persia and European powers. Shortly before Esmāʿīl’s death (930/1524), a Portuguese ambassador, Balthasar Pessoa, headed an important Portuguese mission to the Safavid court at Tabrīz (see Antonio Tenreiro, pp. 3, 20-21, 33; other information in this paragraph derived from unpublished material made available to the author by the late Laurence Lockhart).

Assessment of Esmāʿīl I. In personal appearance, Esmāʿīl is described by a contemporary Italian traveler as follows: “This Sophi is fair, handsome, and very pleasing; not very tall, but of a light and well-framed figure; rather stout than slight, with broad shoulders. His hair is reddish; he only wears moustachios, and uses his left hand instead of his right. He is as brave as a game cock, and stronger than any of his lords; in the archery contests, out of the ten apples that are knocked down, he knocks down seven” (Angiolello and Ramusio, p. 111). A very similar description is given by the anonymous Italian merchant in the same work (p. 202; for an assessment of his character and personality, see Roemer, in Camb. Hist. Iran VI, pp. 226-27). All sources agree as to Esmāʿīl’s physical bravery, but he was also a poet (ed. T. Ganjdei as Il Canzoniere di Šāh Ismāʿīl Ḫaṭāʿī, Naples, 1959), and he may have been responsible for the move of the famous Safavid artist Behzād from Herāt to Tabrīz. Almost certainly Behzād spent the last years of his life at the Safavid court at Tabrīz, but the date of this move and the circumstances surrounding it are obscure (see BEHZĀD). In the final analysis, Esmāʿīl possessed the personal charisma and powers of leadership to bring the Safavid revolutionary movement to a triumphant conclusion in 907/1501. If the solutions he sought to the problems that faced him after his accession (see above) ultimately failed, this may point to the intractability of the problems rather than to the inexpediency of his policies. On his death in 930/1524, Esmāʿīl was buried in the family mausoleum at the Safavid shrine at Ardabīl. He had four sons: Ṭahmāsb Mīrzā, who succeeded him; Sām Mīrzā; Alqāṣ Mīrzā; and Bahrām Mīrzā; and five daughters: Ḵāneš Ḵānom; Parīḵān Ḵānom, Mahīn Bānū Solṭānom; Farangīs Ḵānom, and Šāh Zaynab Ḵānom (Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, II, p. 239; Możṭar, ed., pp. 608-11).


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M. Haneda, Le Châh et les Qizilbâš: Le système militaire safavide, Berlin, 1987.

W. Hinz, Irans Aufstieg zum Nationalstaat im fünfzehnten Jahrhundert, Berlin and Leipzig, 1936.

M. G. S. Hodgson, “Ghulāt” in EI2 II, pp. 1093-95.

H. İnalcık, “Selim I,” in EI2 IX, pp. 127-31.

A. K. Lanz, ed., Correspondenz des Kaisers Karl VI I, Leipzig, 1844; tr. N. Falsafī as Tārīḵ-e Rawābeṭ-e Īrān o Orūpā dar dawra-ye ṣafawīya, Tehran, 1316 Š./1937, pp. 163-64.

M. J. McCaffrey, “Čālderān,” in EIr. IV, pp. 656-58.

W. Madelung, “Imāma,” in EI2 III, p. 1163-69.

M. M. Mazzaoui, The Origins of the Safawids: Šīʿism, Ṣūfīsm and the Ḡulāt, Wiesbaden, 1972. V. Minorsky, “The Poetry of Shāh Ismāʿīl I,” BSO(A)S 10, 1940-43, pp. 1006-53.

M. Mīr Aḥamīdī, Dīn o maḏhab dar ʿaṣr-e ṣafawī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984.

N. Mojīr Šaybānī, “Jang-e Šāh Esmāʿīl Ṣafawī bā Ozbakān,” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī 2/2, 1346 Š./1967, pp. 45-62.

Idem, “Sīāsat-e ṣolḥ o dūstī-e Šāh Esmāʿīl Ṣafawī bā emperāṭūr-e ʿOṯmānī,” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī 3/5, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 223-44.

A. H. Morton, “The Date and Attribution of the Ross Anonymous: History of Shah Ismaʿil I,” in C. Melville, ed., Persian and Islamic Studies in Honour of Peter Avery, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 179-212.

Idem, “The Early Days of Shāh Ismāʿīl in the Afżal-al-Tavārīkò and elsewhere,” in C. Melville, ed., Safavid Persia, London 1996, pp. 27-51.

A. J. Newman, “Davānī,” in EIr. VII, pp. 132-33. V. J. Parry, “Bāyazīd II,” in EI2 I, pp. 1119-21.

M. Pārsādūst, Šāh Esmāʿīl-e awwal: Pādšāh-ī bā aṯarhā-ye dīrpāy dar Īrān o īrānī, Tehran, 1375 Š./1996. L. P. Pierce, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford, 1993.

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Shah Esmāʿīl wrote poetry under the pen-name Ḵaṭāʾī. Although his son Sām Mīrzā as well as some later authors assert that Esmāʿīl composed poems both in Turkish and Persian, only a few specimens of his Persian verse have survived (Sām Mīrzā, p. 9: one bayt; Faḵrī Heravī, pp. 68-70: one moḵammas; Tarbīat, Dānešmandān-e Āḏarbāyjān, p. 136: three bayts). His poetical output in Turkish, however, is sizeable, though indeterminate due to the absence of critical editions. The oldest extant manuscript of his dīvān (Tashkent, dated 942/1535) contains 262 qaṣīdas and ḡazals and 10 quatrains (Mamedov, 1975, pp. 13-14), while the second earliest copy (Paris, dated 948/1541) preserves 254 qaṣīdas and ḡazals, 3 maṯnawīs, 1 morabbaʿ, and 1 mosaddas (ed. Gandjei, p. 8). In addition to the dīvān, Esmāʿīl composed at least two independent lengthy maṯnawīs in the hazaj meter, namely the Naṣīḥat-nāma, which is sometimes incorporated into the dīvān, and the Dah-nāma (comp. 911/1505-6). Apart from this poetical corpus that is almost exclusively in traditional ʿarūż (q.v.), there exist a sizeable number of poems in syllabic meter that carry the pen-name Ḵaṭāʾī. Although a strong argument was put forth that these syllabic poems should be ascribed to poets belonging to Bektāšī-ʿAlawī circles in Asia Minor (Gandjei, 1971), the possibility that Esmāʿīl I did in fact compose some of them, perhaps with the purpose of attracting Turkish-speaking tribesmen to the Safavid cause, cannot be precluded. For long his poems were recited in Bektāšī-ʿAlawī circles, and the extremist Šabak sect of Iraq included some of them in their sacred book (Gandjei, in EI ² IV, pp. 188-89).

Shah Esmāʿīl I worked in the poetic idiom that had its roots in the works of the Ḥorūfī poet Nasīmī (d. ca. 820/1417) and that attained its apogee in the poems of Esmāʿīl’s contemporary Fożūlī (d. 963/1556). Esmāʿīl was a skillful poet who used prevalent themes and images in lyric and didactic-religious poetry with ease and some degree of originality. His authentic poetic corpus is mostly lyrical, while religious themes receive less attention. As reflected in his poems, Esmāʿīl’s religiosity consisted of a certain confluence of Ḡolāt, Sufi, and Ḥorūfī views, a synthetic religious phenomenon that was quite common in the Turkish-Persian cultural spheres at the turn of the 16th century. The significance of Esmāʿīl’s poetry thus is not primarily on account of its religious content (pace Minorsky, p. 1025a). He was rather a genuine participant in the Āḏarī lyric tradition, and his poetic corpus is best studied within that context.



Editions. H. Arasli, ed., Dah-nāma, Baku, 1948 and 1959.

Idem, ed., Šāh Esmāʿīl Ḵaṭāʾī: Ḡazellerī, Baku, 1946.

M. Abbasli, ed., Šāh Esmāʿīl Ḵaṭāʾī. Sečelmeš eṯerlerī, Baku, 1964.

Idem, ed., Šāh Esmāʿīl Ḵaṭāʾī: Sazim, Baku, 1973.

N. Birdoğan, ed., Alevilerin Büyük Hükümdarı Şah İsmail Hatai, Istanbul, 1991.

S. N. Ergun, ed., Hatāyī Divanı: Şah İsmail Safevi, Edebi Hayatı ve Nefesleri, Istanbul, 1946.

T. Gandjei, ed., Il canzoniere di Šāh Ismāʿīl Ḫaṭāʾī, Naples, 1959.

A. Mamedov, ed., Šāh Esmāʿīl Ḵaṭāʾī: Eṯerlerī, 2 vols., Baku, 1966-73 (in Ar. script); Baku, 1975-76 (in Cyrillic script).

Secondary sources. M. S. ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen, al-ʿAlaqāt al-adabīya bayn al-ṣafawīyīn wa’l-ʿoṯmānīyīn fi’l-qarn al-ʿāšer al-ḥejrī, Cairo, 1978.

Y. Akpınar, “Hatāī, Şah İsmail,” in Türk dili ve edebiyatı ansiklopedisi IV, Istanbul, 1981, pp. 152-53.

R. Azade and O. Efendiev, eds., Šāh Esmāʿīl Ḵaṭāʾī. Maqāleler toplusu, Baku, 1988.

B. Čobānzāda, Ḵaṭāʾī. Dili ve edebī yārādījīliḡi, Baku, 1920.

T. Gandjei, “Pseudo-Khaṭāʾī,” in C. E. Bosworth, ed., Iran and Islam, Edinburgh, 1971, pp. 263-66.

Idem, “A Note on an Illustrated ms. of Shāh Ismāʿīl,” Turcica 18, 1986, pp. 159-64.

Faḵrī Heravī, Taḏkera-ye rowżat-al-salā ṭīn, ed. ʿA. Khayyāmpūr, Tabrīz, 1345 Š./1966, pp. 67-70.

Majmaʿ al-foṣaḥā I, pp. 38-39.

A. Mamedov, “Le plus ancien manuscrit du dīvān de Shah Ismail Khatayi,” Turcica 6, 1975, pp. 11-23.

I. Mélikoff, “Hatāyī,” in Uluslararası folklor ve halk edebiyatı semineri bildirileri (27-29 Ekim 1975 Konya), Ankara, 1976, pp. 315-18.

V. Minorsky, “The Poetry of Shāh Ismāʿīl I,” BSO(A)S 10, 1938-42, pp. 1006a-53a.

C. Öztelli, “Les Oeuvres de Hatāyī,” Turcica 6, 1975, pp. 7-10.

Ṣafā, Adabīyāt IV, pp. 136-39.

Sām Mīrzā Ṣafawī, Toḥfa-ye sāmī, ed. Ḥ Waḥīd Dastgerdī, Tehran, 1314 Š./1935, pp. 6-9.

M. Sertoğlu, “Taştī-i Gazel-i Şāh İsmail-i Safevi (Hataī),” Türk Kültürü 275, Istanbul, 1986, pp. 166-67.

T. Yazıcı, “Şah İsmail (Şairliği),” in İA XI, p. 278.

(Roger M. Savory, Ahmet T. Karamustafa)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: January 19, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 628-636