Ismail I

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Ismail I
اسماعیل یکم
Portrait of Shah Ismail I. Inscribed "Ismael Sophy Rex Pers". Painted by the Italian painter Cristofano dell'Altissimo between 1552 and 1568. Housed at the Uffizi, Florence.[1]
Shah of Iran
Reign22 December 1501 – 23 May 1524
SuccessorTahmasp I
Born17 July 1487
Ardabil, Aq Qoyunlu
Died23 May 1524(1524-05-23) (aged 36)
Near Tabriz, Safavid Iran
SpouseTajlu Khanum
Behruzeh Khanum
Among others
Tahmasp I
Sam Mirza
Alqas Mirza
Bahram Mirza
Parikhan Khanum
Mahinbanu Khanum
Abu'l-Moẓaffar Ismā'īl ibn Shaykh Ḥaydar ibn Shaykh Junayd
Regnal name
Shah Ismail I
FatherShaykh Haydar
MotherHalima Begum
ReligionTwelver Shia Islam

Ismail I (Persian: اسماعیل, romanizedEsmāʿīl, pronounced [esmɒːʔiːl]; July 17, 1487 – May 23, 1524), also known as Shah Ismail (شاه اسماعیل), was the founder of the Safavid dynasty of Iran, ruling as its King of Kings (Shahanshah) from 1501 to 1524. His reign is often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history,[2] as well as one of the gunpowder empires.[3]

The rule of Ismail I is one of the most vital in the history of Iran.[4] Before his accession in 1501, Iran, since its conquest by the Arabs eight-and-a-half centuries earlier, had not existed as a unified country under native Iranian rule. Although many Iranian dynasties rose to power amidst this whole period, it was only under the Buyids that a vast part of Iran properly returned to Iranian rule (945–1055).[5]

The dynasty founded by Ismail I would rule for over two centuries, being one of the greatest Iranian empires and at its height being amongst the most powerful empires of its time, ruling all of present-day Iran, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia, most of Georgia, the North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of modern-day Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.[6][7][8][9] It also reasserted the Iranian identity in large parts of Greater Iran.[2][10] The legacy of the Safavid Empire was also the revival of Iran as an economic stronghold between East and West, the establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy based upon "checks and balances", its architectural innovations, and patronage for fine arts.[2]

One of his first actions was the proclamation of the Twelver denomination of Shia Islam as the official religion of his newly-founded Persian Empire,[11] marking one of the most important turning points in the history of Islam,[4] which had major consequences for the ensuing history of Iran.[2] He caused sectarian tensions in the Middle East when he destroyed the tombs of the Abbasid caliphs, the Sunni Imam Abu Hanifa an-Nu'man, and the Sufi Muslim ascetic Abdul Qadir Gilani in 1508.[11] Furthermore, this drastic act also gave him a political benefit of separating the growing Safavid Empire from its Sunni neighbors—the Ottoman Empire to the west and the Uzbek Confederation to the east. However, it brought into the Iranian body politic the implied inevitability of consequent conflict between the Shah, the design of a "secular" state, and the religious leaders, who saw all secular states as unlawful and whose absolute ambition was a theocratic state.

Ismail I was also a prolific poet who under the pen name Khaṭāʾī (Arabic: خطائي, lit.'the wrongful') contributed greatly to the literary development of the Azerbaijani language.[12] He also contributed to Persian literature, though few of his Persian writings survive.[13]


The battle between the young Ismā'īl and Shah Farrukh Yassar of Shirvan

Ismail I was born to Martha and Shaykh Haydar on July 17, 1487, in Ardabil. His father, Haydar, was the sheikh of the Safavid tariqa (Sufi order) and a direct descendant of its Kurdish founder,[14][15][16] Safi-ad-din Ardabili (1252–1334). Ismail was the last in this line of hereditary Grand Masters of the order, prior to his ascent to a ruling dynasty.

His mother Martha, better known as Halima Begum, was the daughter of Uzun Hasan, the ruler of the Turkoman Aq Qoyunlu dynasty, by his Pontic Greek wife Theodora Megale Komnene, better known as Despina Khatun.[17] Despina Khatun was the daughter of Emperor John IV of Trebizond. She had married Uzun Hassan in a deal to protect the Empire of Trebizond from the Ottoman Turks.[18] Ismail was a great-great-grandson of Emperor Alexios IV of Trebizond and King Alexander I of Georgia.

Roger Savory suggests that Ismail's family was of Iranian origin, likely from Iranian Kurdistan, and later moved to Azerbaijan where they assimilated into the Turkic Azeri population.[19] Ismail was bilingual in Persian and a Southern Turkic dialect, a precursor (i.e. "proto" version) of modern Azeri Turkic.[20][21] His ancestry was mixed, from various ethnic groups such as Georgians, Greeks, Kurds and Turkomans;[22][23][24][25][26] the majority of scholars agree that his empire was an Iranian one.[6][7][8][9][27]

In 700/1301, Safi al-Din assumed the leadership of the Zahediyeh, a significant Sufi order in Gilan, from his spiritual master and father-in-law Zahed Gilani. The order was later known as the Safavid. One genealogy claimed that Sheikh Safi (the founder of the order and Ismael's ancestor) was a lineal descendant of Ali. Ismail also proclaimed himself the Mahdi and a reincarnation of Ali.[28]


Ismail declares himself shah by entering Tabriz, painter Chingiz Mehbaliyev, in private collection.

In 1488, the father of Ismail was killed in a battle at Tabasaran against the forces of the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar and his overlord, the Aq Qoyunlu, a Turkic tribal federation which controlled most of Iran. In 1494, the Aq Qoyunlu captured Ardabil, killing Ali Mirza Safavi, the eldest son of Haydar, and forcing the 7-year-old Ismail to go into hiding in Gilan, where under the Kar-Kiya ruler Soltan-Ali Mirza, he received education under the guidance of scholars.

When Ismail reached the age of 12, he came out of hiding and returned to what is now Iranian Azerbaijan along with his followers. Ismail's rise to power was made possible by the Turkoman tribes of Anatolia and Azerbaijan, who formed the most important part of the Qizilbash movement.[29]


The battle between Ismail I and Muhammad Shaybani

Conquest of Iran and its surroundings

In the summer of 1500, Ismail rallied about 7,000 Qizilbash troops at Erzincan, including members of the Ustajlu, Rumlu, Takkalu, Dhu'l-Qadar, Afshar, Qajar, and Varsaq.[5] Qizilbash forces passed over the Kura River in December 1500, and marched towards the Shirvanshah's state. They defeated the forces of the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar near Cabanı (present-day Shamakhi Rayon, Azerbaijan Republic)[30] or at Gulistan (present-day Gülüstan, Goranboy, Nagorno-Karabakh),[31][32] and subsequently went on to conquer Baku.[32][33] Thus, Shirvan and its dependencies (up to southern Dagestan in the north) were now Ismail's. The Shirvanshah line nevertheless continued to rule Shirvan under Safavid suzerainty for some more years, until 1538, when, during the reign of Ismail's son, Tahmasp I (r. 1524–1576), from then on it came to be ruled by a Safavid governor.[34] After the conquest, Ismail had Alexander I of Kakheti send his son Demetre to Shirvan to negotiate a peace agreement.[35]

The successful conquest had alarmed the ruler of the Aq Qoyunlu, Alvand, who subsequently proceeded north from Tabriz, and crossed the Aras River in order to challenge the Safavid forces, and both sides met at the battle of Sharur in which Ismail's army came out victorious despite being outnumbered by four to one.[32] Shortly before his attack on Shirvan, Ismail had made the Georgian kings Constantine II and Alexander I of respectively the kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, attack the Ottoman possessions near Tabriz, on the promise that he would cancel the tribute that Constantine was forced to pay to the Aq Qoyunlu once Tabriz was captured.[35] After eventually conquering Tabriz and Nakhchivan, Ismail broke the promise he had made to Constantine II, and made both the kingdoms of Kartli as well as Kakheti his vassals.[35]

In July 1501, following his occupation of Tabriz, Ismail took the title Shah of Iran (Pādshāh-i Irān).[36] He appointed his former guardian and mentor Husayn Beg Shamlu as the vakil (vicegerent) of the empire and the commander-in-chief (amir al-umara) of the Qizilbash army.[37][38] His army was composed of tribal units, the majority of which were Turkmen from Anatolia and Syria with the remainder Kurds and Čaḡatāy.[39] He also appointed a former Iranian vizier of the Aq Qoyunlu, named Amir Zakariya, as his vizier.[40] After proclaiming himself Shah, Ismail also proclaimed Twelver Shi'ism to be the official and compulsory religion of Iran. He enforced this new standard by the sword, dissolving Sunni Brotherhoods and executing anyone who refused to comply to the newly implemented Shi'ism [41]

Qāsim Beg Ḥayātī Tabrīzī (fl. 961/1554), a poet and bureaucrat of early Safavid era, states that he had heard from several witnesses that Shah Ismail's enthronement took place in Tabriz immediately after the battle of Sharur on 1 Jumada al-Thani 907 / 22 December 1501, making Ḥayātī's book entitled Tārīkh (1554) the only known narrative source to give the exact date of Shah Ismail's ascent to the throne.[42]

Shāh Ismāʻil's empire

After defeating an Aq Qoyunlu army in 1502, Ismail took the title of "Shah of Iran".[43] In the same year he gained possession of Erzincan and Erzurum,[44] while a year later, in 1503, he conquered Eraq-e Ajam and Fars; one year later he conquered Mazandaran, Gorgan, and Yazd. In 1507, he conquered Diyarbakır. During the same year, Ismail appointed the Iranian Amir Najm al-Din Mas'ud Gilani as the new vakil. This was because Ismail had begun favoring the Iranians more than the Qizilbash, who, although they had played a crucial role in Ismail's campaigns, possessed too much power and were no longer considered trustworthy.[45][46]

One year later, Ismail forced the rulers of Khuzestan, Lorestan, and Kurdistan to become his vassals. The same year, Ismail and Husayn Beg Shamlu seized Baghdad, putting an end to the Aq Qoyunlu.[5][47] Ismail then began destroying Sunni sites in Baghdad, including tombs of Abbasid Caliphs and tombs of Imam Abū Ḥanīfah and Abdul Qadir Gilani.[48]

By 1510, he had conquered the whole of Iran (including Shirvan), southern Dagestan (with its important city of Derbent), Mesopotamia, Armenia, Khorasan, and Eastern Anatolia, and had made the Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti his vassals.[49][50] In the same year, Husayn Beg Shamlu lost his office as commander-in-chief in favor of a man of humble origins, Mohammad Beg Ustajlu.[45] Ismail also appointed Najm-e Sani as the new vakil of the empire due to the death of Mas'ud Gilani.[46]

Ismail I moved against the Uzbeks. In the battle near the city of Merv, some 17,000 Qizilbash warriors ambushed and defeated an Uzbek force numbering 28,000. The Uzbek ruler, Muhammad Shaybani, was caught and killed trying to escape the battle, and the shah had his skull made into a jewelled drinking goblet.[51] In 1512, Najm-e Sani was killed during a clash with the Uzbeks, which made Ismail appoint Abd al-Baqi Yazdi as the new vakil of the empire.[52]

War against the Ottomans

Artwork of the Battle of Chaldiran

The active recruitment of support for the Safavid cause among the Turcoman tribes of Eastern Anatolia, among tribesmen who were Ottoman subjects, had inevitably placed the neighbouring Ottoman empire and the Safavid state on a collision course.[53] As the Encyclopaedia Iranica states, "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".[53] By the early 1510s, Ismail's rapidly expansionist policies had made the Safavid border in Asia Minor shift even further west. In 1511, there was a widespread pro-Safavid rebellion in southern Anatolia by the Takkalu Qizilbash tribe, known as the Şahkulu Rebellion,[53] and an Ottoman army that was sent in order to put down the rebellion down was defeated.[53] A large-scale incursion into Eastern Anatolia by Safavid ghazis under Nūr-ʿAlī Ḵalīfa coincided with the accession of Sultan Selim I in 1512 to the Ottoman throne, and became the casus belli which led to Selim's decision to invade Safavid Iran two years later.[53] Selim and Ismail had been exchanging a series of belligerent letters prior to the attack. While the Safavid forces were at Chaldiran and planning on how to confront the Ottomans, Mohammad Khan Ustajlu, who served as the governor of Diyarbakır, and Nur-Ali Khalifa, a commander who knew how the Ottomans fought, proposed that they should attack as quickly as possible.[54] This proposal was rejected by the powerful Qizilbash officer Durmish Khan Shamlu, who rudely said that Mohammad Khan Ustajlu was only interested in the province which he governed. The proposal was rejected by Ismail himself, who said; "I am not a caravan-thief; whatever is decreed by God, will occur."[54]

Personal items of Shah Ismail I captured by Selim I during battle of Chaldiran. Topkapi Museum. Istanbul

Selim I eventually defeated Ismail at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514.[55] Ismail's army was more mobile and his soldiers were better prepared, but the Ottomans prevailed due in large part to their efficient modern army, and possession of artillery, black powder and muskets. Ismail was wounded and almost captured in battle. Selim entered the Iranian capital of Tabriz in triumph on September 5,[56] but did not linger. A mutiny among his troops, fearing a counterattack and entrapment by fresh Safavid forces called in from the interior, forced the triumphant Ottomans to withdraw prematurely. This allowed Ismail to recover. Among the booty from Tabriz was Ismail's favorite wife, for whose release the Sultan demanded huge concessions, which were refused. Despite his defeat at the Battle of Chaldiran, Ismail quickly recovered most of his kingdom, from east of the Lake Van to the Persian Gulf. However, the Ottomans managed to annex for the first time Eastern Anatolia and parts of Mesopotamia, as well as briefly northwestern Iran.[57]

The Venetian ambassador Caterino Zeno describes the events as follows:

The monarch [Selim], seeing the slaughter, began to retreat, and to turn about, and was about to fly, when Sinan, coming to the rescue at the time of need, caused the artillery to be brought up and fired on both the janissaries [sic] and the Persians. The Persian horses hearing the thunder of those infernal machines, scattered and divided themselves over the plain, not obeying their riders bit or spur anymore, from the terror they were in ... It is certainly said, that if it had not been for the artillery, which terrified in the manner related the Persian horses which had never before heard such a din, all his forces would have been routed and put to edge of the sword.[58]

He also adds that:

If the Turks had been beaten in the battle of Chaldiran, the power of Ismail would have become greater than that of Tamerlane, as by the fame alone of such a victory he would have made himself absolute lord of the East.[59]

Late reign and death

Shah Ismail I's grave at Sheikh Safi al-Din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble

Shah Ismail's death ensued after a few years of a very saddening and depressing period of his life. After the Battle of Chaldiran, Ismail lost his supernatural air and the aura of invincibility, gradually falling into heavy drinking of alcohol.[60] He retired to his palace, never again participated in a military campaign,[61] and withdrew from active participation in the affairs of the state. He left these to his vizier, Mirza Shah Husayn,[62] who became his close friend and drinking companion. This allowed Mirza Shah Husayn to gain influence over Ismail and expand his authority.[63] Mirza Shah Husayn was assassinated in 1523 by a group of Qizilbash officers, after which Ismail appointed Zakariya's son Jalal al-Din Mohammad Tabrizi as his new vizier. Ismail died on 23 May 1524 at the relatively early age of 36. He was buried in Ardabil, and was succeeded by his son Tahmasp I.

The consequences of the defeat at Chaldiran were also psychological for Ismail: His relationships with his Qizilbash followers were fundamentally altered. The tribal rivalries between the Qizilbash, which temporarily ceased before the defeat at Chaldiran, resurfaced in intense form immediately after the death of Ismail, and led to ten years of civil war (930–40/1524–33) until Shah Tahmasp regained control of the affairs of the state. The Safavids later briefly lost Balkh and Kandahar to the Mughals, and nearly lost Herat to the Uzbeks.[64]

During Ismail's reign, mainly in the late 1510s, the first steps for the Habsburg–Persian alliance were set as well, with Charles V and Ludwig II of Hungary being in contact with a view to combining against the common Ottoman Turkish enemy.[65]

Royal ideology

Persian miniature created by Mo'en Mosavver, depicting Shah Ismail I at an audience receiving the Qizilbash after they defeated the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yasar. Album leaf from a copy of Bijan’s Tarikh-i Jahangusha-yi Khaqan Sahibqiran (A History of Shah Ismail I), produced in Isfahan, end of the 1680s

From an early age, Ismail was acquainted with the Iranian cultural legacy. When he reached Lahijan in 1494, he gifted Mirza Ali Karkiya a copy of the medieval Persian epic Shahnameh (Book of Kings) with over 300 illustrations.[66] Owing to his fondness of Iranian national legends, Ismail named three of his four sons after mythological shahs and heroes of the Shahnameh; his oldest son was named Tahmasp, after the last shah of the Pishdadian dynasty; his third son Sam after the champion of the Pishdadian shah Manuchehr and ancestor of the celebrated warrior-hero Rostam; his youngest son Bahram after the Sasanian shah Bahram V (r. 420–438), famous for his romantic life and hunting feats. Ismail's expertise in Persian poetic tales such as the Shahnameh, helped him to represent himself as the heir to the Iranian model of kingship.[67] According to the modern historian Abbas Amanat, Ismail was motivated to visualize himself as a shah of the Shahnameh, possibly Kaykhosrow, the archetype of a great Iranian king, and the person who overcame the Turanian king Afrasiyab, the nemesis of Iran. From an Iranian perspective, Afrasiyab's kingdom of Turan was commonly identified with the land of the Turks, in particular with the Uzbek Khanate of Bukhara in Central Asia. After Ismail defeated the Uzbeks, his victory was portrayed in Safavid records as a victory over the mythological Turanians.[67] However, this fondness of Iranian legends was not only restricted to that of Ismail and Safavid Iran; Both Muhammad Shaybani, Selim I, and later Babur and his Mughal progeny, all associated themselves with these legends. Regardless of its increasing differences, Western, Central, and South Asia all followed a common Persianate model of culture and kingship.[68]

Before his defeat at Chaldiran in 1514, Ismail not only identified himself as the reincarnation of Alid figures such as Ali and Husayn, but also as the personification of the divine light of investiture (farr) that had radiated in the ancient Iranian shahs Darius, Khosrow I Anushirvan (r. 531–579), Shapur I (r. 240–270), since the era of the Achaemenids and Sasanians. This was a typical Safavid combination of Islamic and pre-Islamic Iranian motifs.[69] The Safavids also included and promoted Turkic and Mongol aspects from the Central Asian steppe, such as giving high-ranking positions to Turkic leaders, and utilizing Turkic tribal clans for their aspirations in war. They likewise included Turco-Mongolian titles such as khan and bahadur to their growing collection of titles. The cultural aspects of the Safavids soon became even more numerous, as Ismail and his successors included and promoted Kurds, Arabs, Georgians, Circassians, and Armenians into their imperial program.[70] Moreover, the conquests of Genghis Khan and Timur had merged Mongolian and Chagatai aspects into the Persian bureaucratic culture, terminology, seals, and symbols.[71]

Ismail's poetry

Ismail is also known for his poetry using the pen name Khaṭāʾī (Arabic: خطائي, lit.'the wrongful').[72] He wrote in the Turkish of Safavid Iran and Persian, although his extant verses in the former vastly outnumber the latter.[73] The (Turkoman) Turkish spoken in Iran, which was commonly known as Turki,[74] was not the Turkish of Istanbul,[75] but a sort of precursor (i.e "proto" form ) of modern-day Azerbaijani or Azeri Turkic (see also; Ajem-Turkic).[76]

Vladimir Minorsky characterized Ismail's divan as written in a "Southern Turkish (Turcoman) dialect directly associated with the so-called ʻʻĀzarbāyjān Turkishʼʼ, and noted that his Turkish "already shows traces of decomposition due to the influence of the Iranian milieu".[77] Minorsky also added that Chaghatai words are found (as well as other words and forms of unknown origin) in Ismail I's poems.[77][a] Stephen Dale describes the language used by Ismail in his well-known propagandistic verse directed at the Turkoman tribesmen in Azerbaijan and eastern Anatolia as the same precursor of Azeri Turkish (i.e. proto-Azeri) that he was able to converse in.[76]

Ismail is considered an important figure in the literary history of Azerbaijani language.[79] According to Encyclopædia Iranica, "Ismail was a skillful poet who used prevalent themes and images in lyric and didactic-religious poetry with ease and some degree of originality". He was also deeply influenced by the Persian literary tradition of Iran, particularly by the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, which probably explains the fact that he named all of his sons after Shahnameh-characters. Dickson and Welch suggest that Ismail's "Shāhnāmaye Shāhī" was intended as a present to his young son Tahmasp.[80] After defeating Muhammad Shaybani's Uzbeks, Ismail asked Hatefi, a famous poet from Jam (Khorasan), to write a Shahnameh-like epic about his victories and his newly established dynasty. Although the epic was left unfinished, it was an example of mathnawis in the heroic style of the Shahnameh written later on for the Safavid kings.[81]

Most of the poems are concerned with love—particularly of the mystical Sufi kind—though there are also poems propagating Shi'i doctrine and Safavi politics. His other serious works include the Nasihatnāme, a book of advice, and the unfinished Dahnāme, a book which extols the virtues of love—both written in the same Turkoman Turkish (i.e. proto-Azeri Turkic).[13][82]

Along with the poet Imadaddin Nasimi, Khatā'ī is considered to be among the first proponents of using a simpler Azerbaijani language in verse that would appeal to a broader audience. His work is most popular in Azerbaijan, as well as among the Bektashis of Turkey.[failed verification] There is a large body of Alevi and Bektashi poetry that has been attributed to him.[failed verification] The major impact of his religious writings, in the long run, was the conversion of Persia from Sunni to Shia Islam.[83]

Examples of his poems are:[84][85]

Poetry example 1

Today I have come to the world as a Master. Know truly that I am Haydar's son.
I am Fereydun, Khosrow, Jamshid, and Zahak. I am Zal's son (Rostam) and Alexander.
The mystery of I am the truth is hidden in this my heart. I am the Absolute Truth and what I say is Truth.
I belong to the religion of the "Adherent of the Ali" and on the Shah's path I am a guide to every one who says: "I am a Muslim." My sign is the "Crown of Happiness".
I am the signet-ring on Sulayman's finger. Muhammad is made of light, Ali of Mystery.
I am a pearl in the sea of Absolute Reality.
I am Khatai, the Shah's slave full of shortcomings.
At thy gate I am the smallest and the last [servant].

Poetry example 2

My name is Shāh Ismā'īl. I am God's mystery. I am the leader of all these ghāzīs.
My mother is Fātima, my father is 'Ali; and eke I am the Pīr of the Twelve Imāms.
I have recovered my father's blood from Yazīd. Be sure that I am of Haydarian essence.
I am the living Khidr and Jesus, son of Mary. I am the Alexander of (my) contemporaries.
Look you, Yazīd, polytheist and the adept of the Accursed one, I am free from the Ka'ba of hypocrites.
In me is Prophethood (and) the mystery of Holiness. I follow the path of Muhammad Mustafā.
I have conquered the world at the point of (my) sword. I am the Qanbar of Murtaza 'Ali.
My sire is Safī, my father Haydar. Truly I am the Ja'far of the audacious.
I am a Husaynid and have curses for Yazīd. I am Khatā'ī, a servant of the Shāh's.

Poetry example 3

"The light of all is Muhammed."
due to your desire my heart burned, will i see you ever?
i hope in the holy divan of truth, you will remember me

they call you generous, valiant oh' impeccable leader
the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant

i could not find anyone in this lone world who is like you
let me see your moon-faced effigy, so i will not stay in desire

all your servants who call your name will not be devoided in the hereafter
the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant

forgive this sinner, i lead my face to your holy dergah
my soul stayed in blasphemy, thou' will not insist on my sin

i soughed shelter and came to this revealed refuge
the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant

Hata-i says: "thou' Ali, my body is filled up with sins"

the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant[86]

Poetry from other composers about Ismail, I.

From Pir Sultan Abdal:

He makes a march against Urum
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming
I bow down and kissed his Hand
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

He fills the cups step by step
In his stable only noble Arab horses
His ancestry, he is the son of the Shah
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

The fields are marked step by step
His rival makes his heart aching
Red-green is the young warrior dressed
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

He lets him seen often on the field
No one knows the secret of the saviour
Shah of the world goodman Haydar's grandson
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

Pir Sultan Abdal, I am, if i could see this
Submit my self, if I could wipe my face at him
From ere he is the leader of the 12 Imams
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

Emergence of a clerical aristocracy

An important feature of the Safavid society was the alliance that emerged between the ulama (the religious class) and the merchant community. The latter included merchants trading in the bazaars, the trade and artisan guilds (asnaf) and members of the quasi-religious organizations run by dervishes (futuvva). Because of the relative insecurity of property ownership in Persia, many private landowners secured their lands by donating them to the clergy as so-called vaqf. They would thus retain the official ownership and secure their land from being confiscated by royal commissioners or local governors, as long as a percentage of the revenues from the land went to the ulama. Increasingly, members of the religious class, particularly the mujtahids and the seyyeds, gained full ownership of these lands, and, according to contemporary historian Iskandar Munshi, Persia started to witness the emergence of a new and significant group of landowners.[87]

Appearance and skills

Shah Ismail I as depicted in a 1590s engraving by Theodor de Bry

Ismail was described by contemporaries as having a regal appearance, gentlemanly in quality and youthfulness. He also had a fair complexion and red hair.[88] His appearance compared to other olive-skinned Persians, his descent from the Safavid Shaykhs, and his religious ideals, contributed to people's expectation based on various legends circulating during this period of heightened religious awareness in Western Asia.[88]

An Italian traveller describes Ismail 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.[64]


Ismail's greatest legacy was establishing an empire which lasted over 200 years. As Alexander Mikaberidze states, "The Safavid dynasty would rule for two more centuries [after Ismail's death] and establish the basis for the modern-nation state of Iran."[89] Even after the fall of the Safavids in 1736, their cultural and political influence endured through the era of Afsharid, Zand, Qajar, and Pahlavi dynasties into the modern Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the neighboring Azerbaijan Republic, where Shi'a Islam is still the dominant religion as it was during the Safavid era.

In popular culture


In the Safavid period, the famous Azeri folk romance Shah Ismail emerged.[90] According to Azerbaijani literary critic Hamid Arasly, this story is related to Ismail I. But it is also possible that it is dedicated to Ismail II.

Places and structures



Shah Ismayil is the name of an Azerbaijani mugham opera in 6 acts and 7 scenes composed by Muslim Magomayev,[93] in 1915–19.[94]


Shah Ismail Order (the highest Azerbaijani military award presented by the Commander-in-chief and President of Azerbaijan)


Statue of Ismail I in Ardabil, Iran




See also


  1. ^ Within this context, James J. Reid suggests that Chaghatai became the lingua franca amongst the multilingual and polyglot Qizilbash in Iran.[78]


  1. ^ Casale, Sinem Arcak (2023). Gifts in the Age of Empire: Ottoman-Safavid Cultural Exchange, 1500–1639. University of Chicago Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0226820422.
  2. ^ a b c d Matthee, Rudi (13 June 2017) [28 July 2008]. "Safavid Dynasty". Encyclopædia Iranica. New York: Columbia University. doi:10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_509. ISSN 2330-4804. Archived from the original on 25 May 2022. Retrieved 23 June 2022.
  3. ^ Streusand, Douglas E., Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Boulder, Col : Westview Press, 2011) ("Streusand"), p. 135.
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  6. ^ a b Helen Chapin Metz. Iran, a Country study. 1989. University of Michigan, p. 313.
  7. ^ a b Emory C. Bogle. Islam: Origin and Belief. University of Texas Press. 1989, p. 145.
  8. ^ a b Stanford Jay Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge University Press. 1977, p. 77.
  9. ^ a b Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire, I.B. Tauris (2006).
  10. ^ Why is there such confusion about the origins of this important dynasty, which reasserted Iranian identity and established an independent Iranian state after eight and a half centuries of rule by foreign dynasties? RM Savory, Iran under the Safavids (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980), p. 3.
  11. ^ a b Masters, Bruce (2009). "Baghdad". In Ágoston, Gábor; Masters, Bruce (eds.). Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Facts On File. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-8160-6259-1. LCCN 2008020716. Archived from the original on 16 May 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  12. ^ Doerfer, G. "Azeri Turkish". Encyclopaedia Iranica, viii, Online Edition. p. 246.
  13. ^ a b "Esmā ʿĪl I Ṣafawī – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  14. ^ Tapper, Richard (1997). Frontier Nomads of Iran: A Political and Social History of the Shahsevan. Cambridge University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0521583367. The Safavid Shahs who ruled Iran between 1501 and 1722 descended from Sheikh Safi ad-Din of Ardabil (1252–1334). Sheikh Safi and his immediate successors were renowned as holy ascetics Sufis. Their own origins were obscure; probably of Kurdish or Iranian extraction ...
  15. ^ Savory 1997, p. 8.
  16. ^ Kamal, Muhammad (2006). Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 24. ISBN 978-0754652717. The Safawid was originally a Sufi order whose founder, Shaykh Safi al-Din, a Sunni Sufi master descended from a Kurdish family ...
  17. ^ Peter Charanis. "Review of Emile Janssens' Trébizonde en Colchide", Speculum, Vol. 45, No. 3,, (Jul., 1970), p. 476
  18. ^ Anthony Bryer, open citation, p. 136
  19. ^ Roger M. Savory. "Safavids" in Peter Burke, Irfan Habib, Halil Inalci:»History of Humanity-Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century", Taylor & Francis. 1999. Excerpt from p. 259:"Доказательства, имеющиеся в настоящее время, приводят к уверенности, что семья Сефевидов имеет местное иранское происхождение, а не тюркское, как это иногда утверждают. Скорее всего, семья возникла в Персидском Курдистане, а затем перебралась в Азербайджан, где ассимилировалась с говорящими по-тюркски азерийцами, и в конечном итоге поселились в маленьком городе Ардебиль где-то в одиннадцатом веке [Evidence available at the present time leads to the conviction that the Safavid family came from indigenous Iranian stock, and not from Turkish ancestry as it is sometimes claimed. It is probable that the family originated in Persian Kurdistan, and later moved to Azerbaijan, where it became assimilated to Turkic-speaking Azeris and eventually settled in the small town of Ardabil sometime during the eleventh century.]".
  20. ^ Dale, Stephen Frederic (2020). "Turks, Turks and türk Turks: Anatolia, Iran and India in Comparative Perspective". In Peacock, A.C.S.; McClary, Richard Piran (eds.). Turkish History and Culture in India: Identity, Art and Transregional Connections. Brill. pp. 73–74.
  21. ^ Kia, Mana (2014). "Imagining Iran before Nationalism: Geocultural Meanings of Land in Azar's Atashkadeh". In Aghaie, Kamran Scot; Marashi, Afshin (eds.). Rethinking Iranian Nationalism and Modernity. University of Texas Press. pp. 110–111 (note 81).
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    • Blow, David (2009). Shah Abbas: The Ruthless King Who Became an Iranian Legend. I.B. Tauris. p. 3
    • Savory, Roger M.; Karamustafa, Ahmet T. (1998) ESMĀʿĪL I ṢAFAWĪ. Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. VIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 628–636
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  25. ^ Peter B. Golden: An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples; In: Osman Karatay, Ankara 2002, p. 321
  26. ^ Вопрос о языке, на котором говорил шах Исмаил, не идентичен вопросу о его «расе» или «национальности». Его происхождение было смешанным: одна из его бабушек была греческая принцесса Комнина. Хинц приходит к выводу, что кровь в его жилах была главным образом, не тюркской. Уже его сын шах Тахмасп начал избавляться от своих туркменских преторианцев. [The question of the language used by Shah Ismail is not identical with that of his race or of his "nationality". His ancestry was mixed: one of his grandmothers was a Greek Comnena princess. Hinz, Aufstieg, 74, comes to the conclusion that the blood in his veins was chiefly non-Turkish. Already, his son Shah Tahmasp began to get rid of his Turcoman praetorians.] – V. Minorsky, "The Poetry of Shah Ismail I," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 10/4 (1942): 1006–1053.
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Ismail I
Born: 17 July 1487 Died: 23 May 1524
Iranian royalty
New creation Shah of Iran
Succeeded by