JĀNI BEG KHAN BIGDELI ŠĀMLU (or JĀNI BEYG; d. 26 Šaʿbān 1055/15 October 1645), išik-āqāsi-bāši (master of ceremony) and qurči-bāši (head of the tribal guards) under the Safavid Shah Ṣafi I (r. 1629-42) and Shah ʿAbbās II (r. 1642-66). Little is known about Jāni Beg’s background. Adam Olearius (p. 671) called him “by origin a peasant’s son” who “at the time of Shah ʿAbbās was a humble servant from Šāmlu,” which would explain why the Persian sources from the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I are silent on his place in the Šāmlu genealogy and the early years of his public life. The sources call him a ḡolām-e ḵāṣṣa, suggesting that, even in the period after Shah ʿAbbās I, not all ḡolāms were of Georgian, Armenian, and Circassian background, and list two brothers of his, Oloḡ Khan and Qara Khan Beg (Eskandar Beg and Moḥammad-Maʿṣum, p. 200; Wāleh Eṣfahāni, p. 117; Waḥid Qazvini, p. 68; Waziri, II, p. 638).
We first encounter Jāni Beg in an official capacity in 1625, when he served in the army of Zaynal Khan Šāmlu and was chosen as envoy to engage in peace talks concerning Baghdad with the Ottoman commander Ḥāfeẓ Aḥmad Pasha (Eskandar Beg, p. 45, tr. Savory, p. 1266). His rise to high officialdom continued with his appointment as yasāvol-e ṣoḥbat (aide-de-camp) in 1629, shortly after the accession of Shah Ṣafi I (Moḥammad-Maʿṣum, p. 43). In 1630-31 he left Persia on a diplomatic mission to the Ottoman court in Istanbul, returning in 1631-32 (Moḥammad-Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni, pp. 124, 158; Wāleh Eṣfahāni, p. 160). The following year he was sent to Ardabil to imprison Šarif Beg, the governor of Ardabil and the superintendent (motawalli) of its shrine, whose injustice had generated many complaints among the populace (Wāleh Eṣfahāni, pp. 118-19; Eskandar Beg and Wāleh Eṣfahāni, p. 99). When later that same year news broke that the Ottoman general Ḵalil Pasha was threatening Van, Shah ʿAbbās II dispatched Jāni Beg to collect an army in Čoḵur-e Saʿd and to raid and plunder the area around Van (Moḥammad-Maʿṣum, pp. 170-71).
Jāni Beg was made to keep a watchful eye on the northwestern frontier, for in the spring of 1635 the shah put him at the command of an army recruited from Qarabāḡ, Šervān/Šarvān and Čoḵūr-e Saʿd in order to confront the approaching Ottoman army (Moḥammad-Maʿṣum, p. 196; Wāleh Eṣfahāni, p. 213; Eskandar Beg and Wāleh Eṣfa-hāni, p. 165). During the siege of Erevan he was made išik-āqāsi-bāši (Moḥammad-Maʿṣum, p. 246; Eskandar Beg and Wāleh Eṣfahāni, p. 199; Estrābādi, p. 252).
In the spring of 1637, Jāni Beg succeeded Amir Khan as head of the qurči regiments (qurči-bāši), a function that he would keep until his death in 1645 (Moḥammad-Maʿṣum, 246). With that promotion came an appointment as governor of Kermān in 1646 (Waziri, II, p. 635). He seems to have performed well in the latter function, for Moḥammad-Saʿid Mašizi (pp. 207-9) speaks of the stability and prosperity of Kermān in this period and the good care Jāni Beg took of the peasants. He also founded a village, Jāniābād, near Kermān city (Bigdeli, I, p. 1107; Waziri, II, pp. 636-38). He is not likely to have resided much in Kermān, though, for he let himself be represented by his brother Oloḡ Khan (Waziri, II, pp. 635-37). His other brother, Qara Khan Beg, by then an aide-de camp (yasāvol-e ṣoḥbat), benefited from Jāni Beg’s promotion as well, for he became ordubegi in 1629 (Eskandar Beg and Wāleh Eṣfahāni, p. 240). Shortly after his appointment in Kermān, Jāni Beg was summoned to assemble a contingent of musketeers (tofangči) from that town for the defense of Baghdad against a new Ottoman threat (Waziri, II, p. 635).
Already powerful owing to his important function, Jāni Beg moved into primary position at the court with the accession of Shah ʿAbbās II in 1642. In the first year of the adolescent shah’s reign, he was one of the three officials who effectively ruled the country (the other two were Mirzā Sāru Taqi and Moḥammad-ʿAli Beg; see, in ARA, VOC 1144, Daghregister Hendrick Walckaert, fol. 561; VOC 1141, 20 Aug. 1642, fol. 547). His landed possessions were vast; pious endowments (waqf) in his name were located in places varying from Azerbaijan to Kermān, Isfahan, and Hamadān. His name is also attached to a madrasa in Qom (Bigdeli, I, pp. 1100-1101, II, pp. 808-12).
Jāni Beg’s ultimate fate is entwined with the death of grand vizier Mirzā Moḥammad Sāru Taqi. In 1643 Jāni Beg became related to Mirzā Sāru Taqi when his daughter was married off to Mirzā Qāsem, a nephew of the grand vizier (Mollā Kamāl, p. 100). This appears to have been meant to solidify a family alliance that also included Shah ʿAbbās II’s mother, and that was designed to do away with a mutual rival, Rostam Khan, the sepahsālār (ARA, VOC 1144, 14 May 1643, fols. 488-94). This alliance does not seem to have outlived its immediate objective, for Jāni Beg would emerge as the main conspirator in the assassination of Mirzā Sāru Taqi. The reasons for the resentment that led to the conspiracy mostly involved disagreement over fiscal and military policy, with Jāni Beg favoring a strong military and Mirzā Sāru Taqi taking the side of the cash-strapped court. Mirzā Sāru Taqi’s curtailing the salaries of the qurčis naturally created resentment among their ranks (ARA, VOC 1158, Daghregister Leonard Winnincx). He also insisted that ʿAli Mardān Khan, the governor of Kandahar (Qandahār), pay his dues to Isfahan or be summoned to court to be replaced. Jāni Beg, concerned about the simultaneous Ottoman threat to Baghdad, counseled the shah against replacing ʿAli Mardān Khan so as not to create turmoil on the eastern border (Falsafi, p. 297; Floor, p. 257).
The author of ʿAbbās-nāma (p. 4) claims that Jāni Beg resolved to remove the chief minister after he had been told that the latter was planning to kill him. According to various sources, Jāni Beg made great efforts to poison Shah ʿAbbās II’s mind against the grand vizier, pointing to his arrogance and insinuating that the grand vizier was driving the country to ruin and that he was a threat to the shah himself (ARA, VOC 1158, Daghregister Winnincx; Chardin, VII, pp. 308-9). Having received permission from the shah, Jāni Beg, on 22 Šaʿbān 1055/11 October 1645, went to Mirzā Sāru Taqi’s house and cut the senior grand vizier down (different interpretations of the circumstances and motives of the murder in Babayan, pp. 123-28, and Floor, pp. 258 ff.).
Following the murder of Mirzā Sāru Taqi, Jāni Beg himself was betrayed by the royal wine-maker (širači-bāši) Ṣafiqoli Beg, who feared that the conspiracy would extend to the throne itself and that the objective was to overthrow the shah (especially since Jāni Beg had called up 30,000 troops). But it was the shah’s mother, whose protégé Mirzā Sāru Taqi had been, who was instrumental in the terrible revenge that followed. Jāni Beg was assassinated on 15 October 1645, and with him a large number of his co-conspirators and members of his clan perished. Among the victims were Naqdi Khan, ʿArab Khan Šāmlu, and Dāwud Khan Šāmlu, the governor of Gilān, who had been a principal enemy of Mirzā Sāru Taqi, because the latter had indicted him for embezzlement. Dāwud Beg’s position was given to Ṣafiqoli Beg (Chardin, VII, pp. 306-7; ARA, VOC 1158, Daghregister . . . Leonard Winnincx). His possessions in Kermān and Hamadān were confiscated, and the post of qurči-bāši devolved on Morteżāqoli Khan, who also took over as governor of Kermān. Jāni Beg’s two brothers, Oloḡ Khan, who had continued to represent Jāni Beg in Kermān, and Qara Khan, who was army commander (sardār) in Khorasan, were apprehended and lost their lives as well (Waḥid Qazvini, p. 68; Mašizi Bardsiri, p. 211; Waziri, II, p. 638; ARA, VOC 1152, Daghregister . . . Willem Bastincq, fol. 248). The career of Jāni Beg’s son, ʿAbd al-Qāsem Khan, on the other hand, did not suffer in the wake of his father’s demise. He would be superintendent of water distribution (mirāb) before becoming divānbegi (q.v.), mayor of Qazvin, and later khan of Hamadān (Mašizi Bardsiri, pp. 373, 391; Chardin, IX, pp. 361, 571-72; Sanson, in Kroell, p. 40; Sanson, pp. 110-12).
ARA = Algemeen Rijks Archief (Dutch National Archives). Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Bigdeli, ed., Tāriḵ-e Bigdeli: madārek wa asnād, 2 vols., Tehran, 1988.
Sayyed Ḥosayn b. Mortażā Ḥosayni Estrābādi/Astarābādi, Tāriḵ-e solṭāni: az Šayḵ Ṣafi tā Šāh Ṣafi, ed. Eḥsān Ešrāqi, Tehran, 1985.
Eskandar Beg Tork-amān and Moḥammad-Yusof Wāleh Eṣfahāni, Ḏayl-e tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿabbāsi, ed. Aḥmad Sohayli Ḵᵛān-sāri, Tehran, 1938.
Ann Kroell, ed., Nouvelles d’Ispahan, 1665-1695, Société d’Histoire de l’Orient, Paris, 1979.
Mir Moḥammad-Saʿid Mašizi Bardsiri, Taḏkera-ye Ṣafawiya-ye Kermān, ed. Moḥammad-Ebrāhim Bāstāni Pārizi, Tehran, 1990.
M oḥammad-MaʿsÂum b. Ḵᵛājagi Eṣfahāni, Ḵolāṣat al-siar: Tāriḵ-e ruzgār-e Šāh Ṣafi, Tehran, 1989.
Mollā Kamāl, Tāriḵ-e Mollā Kamāl, in Ebrāhim Dehgan, ed., Tāriḵ-e Safawiān, Arāk, 1955.
Adam Olearius, Vermehrte newe Beschreibung der muscowitischen und persischen Reyse, Schleswig, 1656, facs repr., Tübingen, 1971; tr. A. Behpūr as Safar-nāma-ye Ādām Oleʾārius (baḵš-e Īrān), Tehran, 1984.
N. Sanson, Voyage ou état présent du royaume de Perse, Paris, 1694; tr. John Savage as The Present State of Persia: . . . Account of the Manners, Religion, and Government of That People, London, 1695.
VOC (Dutch East India Company) = Generale Missieven der Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, ed. Willem Philipus Coolhaas, 7 vols., the Hague, 1960-78.
Moḥammad-Ṭāher Waḥid Qazvini, ʿAbbās-nāma yā šarḥ-e zendagāni-e Šāh ʿAbbās ṯāni (1052-1073), ed. Ebrāhim Dehgān, Arāk, 1950.
Moḥammad-Yusof Wāleh Qazvini Eṣfahāni, Ḵold-e barin: Irān dar zamān-e Šāh Ṣafi wa Šāh ʿAbbās-e dovvom, 1030-1071 h.q., ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Naṣiri, Tehran, 2001.
Aḥmad-ʿAli Khan Waziri, Tāriḵ-e Kermān, ed. Moḥammad-Ebrāhim Bāstāni Pārizi, 3rd ed., 2 vols, Tehran, 1985.
Studies. Kathryn Babayan, “The Waning of the Qizilbash: The Spiritual and the Temporal in Seventeenth Century Iran,” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1993.
Naṣr-Allāh Falsafi, “Sargoḏašt-e ‘Sāru Taqi’ Maḵdum-al-Omarāʾ wa Ḵādem-al-Foqarāʾ,” in idem, Čand maqāla-ye tāriḵi wa adabi, Tehran, 1963, pp. 287-309.
Willem Floor, “The Rise and Fall of Mirza Taqi, the Eunuch Grand Vizier (1043-55/1633-45) Makhdum al-Omara va Khadem al-foqara,” Studia Iranica 26, 1997, pp. 237-66.
Originally Published: December 15, 2008
Last Updated: April 10, 2012
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Vol. XIV, Fasc. 5, pp. 544-545