ḤAYDAR ṢAFAVI (حیدر صفوی, b. Āmed, Diyarbakir, ca. Ramażān 863/July 1459; d. Tābasarān, Dagestan, 893/1488), spiritual leader (moršed) of the Ṣafaviya Sufi order (ṭariqa) and father of Shah Esmāʿil, the founder of the Safavid dynasty.

Ḥaydar was born in circa Ramażān 863/June-July 1459 in Āmed, the capital of the province of Diyarbakir. This date is suggested by Qāsem Beg Ḥayāti Tabrizi (fl. 961/1554). In a Safavid chronicle from the middle of the 17th century, it is claimed that he was born in 850/1446-7, but this date is not corroborated by earlier narrative sources (Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, folios 43a, 44a). According to Ḥayāti Tabrizi, Ḥaydar was eight months old at the time of his father Jonayd’s death, which took place on 10 Jomādā I 864/12 March 1460 (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folios 89b, 74a). Therefore, Ḥaydar is not a “posthumous” son of his father, as claimed by Walther A. Hinz and John E. Woods in their respective studies of the early Safavid and late Āq Qoyunlu history (Hinz, pp. 48-49; Woods, p. 142). Ḥaydar’s mother, Ḵadija Begum bt. Qara ʿOṯmān, was a sister of the Āq Qoyunlu ruler, Uzun Ḥasan (r. 856-82/1452-78), whose marriage to Jonayd took place on the eve of his invasion of Trabzon (Shukurov, pp. 131-4). Less than a year later, Jonayd mounted a military campaign against Georgia and southern Dagestan. He was killed in the Battle of Tābasarān (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, fols. 85r-88v). Ḥaydar was neither the only surviving son nor the eldest of Jonayd’s sons. From two Safavid narrative sources we know that he had at least one older brother called Ḵᵛāja Moḥammad, who had been born from a Circassian concubine (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folios 72b-73b; Pirzāda Zāhedi, p. 67). There is epigraphic evidence that Jonayd had a third son named Ḵᵛāja Jamšid, who appears to have been killed during one of Ḥaydar’s military campaigns in southern Dagestan. Ḵᵛāja Jamšid Ṣafavi is buried in Kubachi, a small village in Tābasarān, some sixty miles northwest of Darband (Aytberov, p. 283). Ḥaydar’s only surviving sister, Šāh-Pāšāātun had been married off to Moḥammad Beg Ṭāleš, a locally prominent military chief from Khalkhal, who later became Shah Esmāʿil’s guardian (lala) and played a crucial role in his rise to the throne in Azerbaijan early in the 16th century (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, fol. 124r; Rumlu, p. 14).

Ḥaydar succeeded his father as spiritual leader of the pro-Āq Qoyunlu faction of the Ṣafaviya Sufi order in circa 876/1471-2. This date is implied by Ḥayāti Tabrizi’s assertion that “Ḥaydar took over the mantle of spiritual leadership (eršād) [of the Ṣafaviya Sufi order] at the age of fifteen” (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folio 74a). Two years later, he married a daughter of his father’s paternal uncle, Šayḵ Farid-al-Din Jaʿfar b. Ḵᵛāja ʿAli. At that time, Jaʿfar acted as the spiritual leader of the pro-Qara Qoyunlu faction of the Ṣafaviya ṭariqa in Ardabil (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folio 91b). The death of Jaʿfar, which must have taken place within a few years of this marriage, paved the way for the consolidation of Ḥaydar’s power as the undisputed spiritual leader of the Ṣafaviya ṭariqa. In Ardabil, Ḥaydar eked out an existence as a swordsmith. He had learned the art of sword making from a local master called Amir Fażlallāh Sayyāf, who later acted as a deputy (wakil) of Ḥaydar’s oldest son and successor, Solṭān-ʿAli Ṣafavi (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folios 90b, 116a). Similarly, a late Āq Quyunlu court historian admits that Ḥaydar “was unequaled in the making of tools of war and weaponry of slashing and jabbing. I heard that he had personally made and stored several thousands of sharpened spearheads, scimitars, pieces of armors, and battle shields” in Ardabil (Ḵonji Eṣfahāni, p. 275).

As spiritual leader of the Ṣafaviya ṭariqa, Ḥaydar entered into alliances with a number of local grandees and military chiefs of Tāleš, Šervān, and southern Dagestan. He launched three military campaigns against the rural towns and village of southern Dagestan. To escape unwanted confrontation with the Šervānšāhid rulers of Sālian and Maḥmudābād, who had allied themselves with the Āq Qoyunlu ruler of Azerbaijan Sultan Yaʿqub (d. 896/1490), it is reported that Ḥaydar had hired a group of local woodworkers in Khalkhal and Astara to make boats for his armies. It had been planned that these boats would be used by Ḥaydar and his devotees so that they could reach the strategic city of Darband and coastal Dagestan, especially the towns of Āgriča and Miān-Qešlāq, without any confrontation with the hostile troops of the Šervānšāh (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folios 92b-99b). In Rajab 888/August-September 1483, Ḥaydar deeded the superintendence of Ebrāhim Zāhed Gilāni’s mausoleum in Šayḵa-Karān (present-day Shiekeran, also Hilya-Karan), a forested village midway between Astara and the port city of Lankarān, to his descendants (Zāhedi, pp. 103-4). Ḥaydar’s first seaborne invasion of southern Dagestan, during which his devotees plundered the dominantly Circassian-populated town of Qaytāq and the plain of Ḥamīrī, can be assigned to around 878/1473-3, the year in which he married Jaʿfar’s daughter (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folios 94a). As it appears from Ḵonji Eṣfahāni’s account, Ḥaydar’s first expedition against Dagestan was overland and took place about five years later in 883/1478 (Ḵonji Eṣfahāni, pp. 276-7; Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folios 99a-101a). At the end of the third and last of his campaigns against southern Dagestan in 893/1488, Ḥaydar and his troops were cornered outside Bayqird Castle in Tābasarān, and he was killed in the battle that ensued. The Āq Quyunlu beheaded Ḥaydar, and his severed head was later buried in Tabriz. Under Shah Esmāʿil, Ḥaydar’s remains were transferred from Tabriz and Tābasarān to Ardabil and buried inside the Safavid shrine (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, 73b, 108a; [Romano], pp. 459-60). 

In addition to his marriages to Uzun Ḥasan’s and Jaʿfar’s daughters, Ḥaydar had concubinage with several Circassian and Georgian women. Ten sons and four daughters are known to have survived Ḥaydar. Solṭān-ʿAli, Ebrāhim, and Esmāʿil had been born from Uzun Ḥasan’s daughter. Sayyed Ḥasan (d. ca. 931/1525), who under Shah Esmāʿil acted as superintendent of the Safavid shrine in Ardabil, had been born in 878/1473-4 from Ḥaydar’s marriage to Jaʿfar’s daughter. Faḵr-Jahān Ḵānom, the eldest of Ḥaydar’s daughter, had been married off to Bayrām Beg Qarāmānlu (d. 920/1514), an influential tribal chief from Moğānāt. Her younger sister, Malak Ḵānom had been given away in marriage to ʿAbdallāh Khan Šāmlu, also known as ʿAbdi Beg (d. 912/1506-7), a high-ranking military chief from Ardabil and eponymous founder of the ʿAbdallu clan of the Šāmlu. Ḥaydar’s other two daughters were married off to Ḥosayn Beg Šāmlu (d. 920/1514), who later acted as Shah Esmāʿil’s guardian, and Šāh-ʿAli Beg (d. after 920/1540), the ruler of Hazo and Sason in Anatolian Kurdistan who claimed descent from the Sasanian kings of Iran (Ḥayāti Tabrizi, folio 73b; Bedlisi, I, p. 411; Ghereghlou, pp. 107, 119).

Under Ḥaydar’s leadership, the Qezelbāš confederate clans and their allies morphed into a well-organized military force capable of changing the balance of power in Azerbaijan. It was Ḥaydar who introduced the uniform twelve-seam red cap after which his followers were originally called in a derogatory manner the qezel-bāš or “red caps.” One of the earliest known anti-Safavid polemical treatises dated from the closing decades of the 15th century associates Ḥaydar’s introduction of these red caps among his supporters with Shiʿi “heretics” of the early Islamic centuries. The anonymous author of the same treatise then concludes that it is religiously binding on Muslim rulers in Iran and eastern Anatolia to punish Ḥaydar’s followers with mass murder, torture, and deportations (Tan, Teber, and Kalaycı, p. 368). The political and military alliances forged under Ḥaydar were to play a crucial role in Shah Esmāʿil’s rise to the throne as the founder of the Safavid dynasty in Azerbaijan in the opening years of the 16th century.                     



Šaraf Khan Bedlisi, Šarafnāma, ed. V. Véliaminof-Zernof, 2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1860-62.

Qāsem Beg Ḥayāti Tabrizi, Tāriḵ, ms. National Library of Iran no. 15776.

Fażlallāh Ḵonji Eṣfahāni, Tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye Amini, ed. J. E. Woods, London, 1992.

Fażli Beg Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, Afżal al-tavāriḵ [volume I], ms. Cambridge University Library no. Pote-Eton 278.

Ḥosayn b. Abdāl Pirzāda Zāhedi, Selselat al-nasab-e Ṣafaviya, Berlin, 1924.

[Francesco Romano], “Viaggio d’un mercante che fu nella Persia,” in G. B. Ramusio and M. Milanesi, eds., Navigazioni e viaggi, 6 vols. Torino, 1980-8, III, pp. 421-79.

Ḥasan Beg Rumlu, Aḥsan al-tavāriḵ, ed. ʿA. Ḥ. Navāʾi, Tehran, 1979.

M. Tan, Ö. F. Teber, and M. Kalaycı, “A Short Treatise on the Context of the Ottoman-Safavid Conflict (Risālah fīāifat al-Ḥaydariyya),” Islamic Quarterly 52/4, 2008, pp. 359-81.


T. Aytberov, “The Newly Found Tomb-Stone of Sheikh Ḥaydar the Ṣafavid in Dagestan,” Iran & the Caucasus 13/2, 2009, pp. 281-84.

K. Ghereghlou, “Cashing in on Land and Privilege for the Welfare of the Shah: Monetisation of Tiyūl in Early Safavid Iran and Eastern Anatolia,” AOASH 68/1, 2015, pp. 87-141.

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

R. Shukurov, “The Campaign of Shaykh Djunayd Ṣafawī against Trebizond (1456 AD/860 H),” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 17, 1993, pp. 127-40.

J. E. Woods, The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire, Salt Lake City, 1999.

(Kioumars Ghereghlou)

Originally Published: November 21, 2016

Last Updated: November 21, 2016

Cite this entry:

Kioumars Ghereghlou, “ḤAYDAR ṢAFAVI,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/haydar-safavi (accessed on 21 November 2016).