Tahmasp I

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Shah Tahmasp I
Shahanshah of Persia, Sahib-i-Qiran, Sultan bar Salatin [1]
Painting of Shah Tahmasp I at Chehel Sotoon palace.
Reign 23 May 1524 – 25 May 1576
Coronation 2 June 1524
Predecessor Ismail I
Successor Ismail II
Born 22 February 1514
Died 14 May 1576(1576-05-14) (aged 62)
Burial Ardebil
Full name
‘Abu’l Muzaffar ‘Abu’l Fath Sultan Shah Tahmasb bin Shah Ismail al-Safavi al-Husayni al-Musavi[1]
House Safavi
Father Shah Ismail I
Mother Tajlu Khanum
Religion Islam

Tahmasp I (Persian: شاه تهماسب یکم‎‎) (22 February 1514 – 14 May 1576) was an influential Shah of Iran, who enjoyed the longest reign of any member of the Safavid dynasty. He was the son and successor of Ismail I.

He came to the throne aged ten in 1524 and came under the control of the Qizilbash, Turkic tribesmen who formed the backbone of the Safavid power. The Qizilbash leaders fought among themselves for the right to be regents over Tahmasp, and by doing so held most of the effective power in hands in the empire.[2] Upon adulthood, however, Tahmasp was able to reassert the power of the Shah and control the tribesmen with the start of the introduction of large amounts of Caucasian elements, effectively and purposefully creating a new layer in Iranian society, solely composed of ethnic Caucasians. This new layer, also called the third force in some of the modern day sources, would be solely composed of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Circassians, Georgians and Armenians, and they would continue to play a crucial role in Persia's royal household, harems, civil and military administration, as well as in all other thinkable and available positions for centuries after Tahmasp, and they would eventually fully eliminate the effective power of the Qizilbash in most of the functioning posts of the empire, by which they would also become the most dominant class in the meritocratic Safavid kingdom as well.[3][4] One of his most notable successors, the greatest Safavid emperor, Abbas I (also known as Abbas the Great) would fully implement and finalize this policy and the creation of this new layer in Iranian society.

Tahmasp's reign was marked by foreign threats, primarily from the Safavid's arch rival, the Ottomans, and the Uzbeks in the far east. In 1555, however, he regularized relations with the Ottoman Empire through the Peace of Amasya. By this treaty historical Armenia and Georgia were divided equally between the two, the Ottoman Empire obtained most of Iraq, including Baghdad, which gave them access to the Persian Gulf, while the Persians retained their former capital Tabriz and all their other north-western territories in the Caucasus (Dagestan, Azerbaijan) and as they were prior to the wars. The frontier thus established ran across the mountains dividing eastern and western Georgia (under native vassal princes), through Armenia, and via the western slopes of the Zagros down to the Persian Gulf. The Ottomans, further, gave permission for Persian pilgrims to go to the holy places of Mecca and Medina as well as to the Shia sites of pilgrimages in Iraq.[5] This peace lasted for 30 years, until it was broken in the time of Shah Mohammed Khodabanda.

Tahmasp is also known for the reception he gave to the fugitive Mughal Emperor Humayun as well as Suleiman the Magnificent's son Bayezid, which is depicted in a painting on the walls of the Safavid palace of Chehel Sotoon.

One of Shah Tahmasp's more lasting achievements was his encouragement of the Persian rug industry on a national scale, possibly a response to the economic effects of the interruption of the Silk Road carrying trade during the Ottoman wars.


Regency 1524–1533[edit]

Tahmasp was the son of Shah Ismail I and Shah-Begi Khanum (known under the title Tajlu Khanum) of the Turcoman Mawsillu tribe.[6][7] He was only 10 years old when he succeeded his father Shah Ismail, the founder of Safavid rule in Iran. Too young to rule in his own right, Tahmasp came under the control of the Qizilbash. Some of the tribes recognised a Qizilbash leader, Div Sultan Rumlu, as regent (atabeg) to the shah, but others dissented and in 1526 a bloody civil war broke out among the differing factions. Div Sultan emerged victorious but his ally, Chuha Sultan Takkalu, turned against him and urged the shah to get rid of him. On 5 July 1527 as Div Sultan arrived for a meeting of the government, Tahmasp shot an arrow at him. When it failed to kill him, the shah's supporters finished him off.

Chuha Sultan now became regent. Iran's enemies, the Uzbeks, had taken advantage of the civil war to invade the north-eastern province of Khorasan. In 1528 Chuha Sultan and the shah marched with their army to reassert control of the region. Although they defeated the Uzbeks in a battle near Jam,[8] Tahmasp was disgusted at the cowardice Chuha Sultan had displayed during the combat. Finally, in 1530/1, a quarrel broke out between members of the Takkalu and Shamlu Qizilbash factions and the Shamlus succeeded in killing Chuha Sultan. The Takkalus regained the advantage and some of them even tried to kidnap the shah. Tahmasp lost patience and ordered a general massacre of the Takkalu tribe. They never regained their influence in Iran.

The leader of the Shamlu faction, Husayn Khan, now assumed the regency but, in 1533, Tahmasp suspected Husayn Khan was plotting to overthrow him and had him put to death. Tahmasb was now old enough and confident enough to rule in his own right.[9]

Foreign threats and policies 1532–1553[edit]

The 16th century Chehel Sotun pavillon in Qazvin. It is the last remnant of the palace of Shah Tahmasb. It was heavily restored by the Qajars in the 19th century.

On 18 February 1529, Charles V, deeply alarmed by the Ottoman progression towards Vienna, again sent a letter from Toledo to king Ismail, who had died in 1524 and had been replaced by Tahmasp I, pleading for a military diversion,[10][11][12] thus continuing the earlier commenced Habsburg-Persian alliance. His ambassador to the Shah was the knight of Saint John de Balbi, and an alliance was made with the objective of making an attack on the Ottoman Empire in the west and the east within the following year.[12][13][14] Tahmasp also responded by expressing his friendship to the Emperor.[11] A decision was thus taken to attack the Ottoman Empire on both fronts,[15] but Balbi took more than one year to return to the Iranian Empire, and by that time the situation had changed in Safavid Iran, as Iran was forced to make peace with the Ottoman Empire because of an insurrection of the Shaybanid Uzbeks.[13]

About the same time, envoys were also sent to Iran by King Ferdinand, in the person of Pietro da Negro and Simon de Lillis, without success.[13] Other legations were sent in 1532 and 1533.[13] These exchanges were effectively followed however by the long Ottoman-Safavid War (1532–1555).[16] From that time, as soon as the Ottomans would launch a European campaign, they would be attacked by the Iranians on their eastern frontier, forcing Suleiman to return speedily to his capital.[17]

Meanwhile, King Francis I of France, enemy of the Habsburgs, and Suleiman the Magnificent were moving forward with a Franco-Ottoman alliance, formalized in 1536, that would counterbalance the Habsburg threat. In 1547, when Suleiman the Magnificent attacked Safavid Iran, France sent him the ambassador Gabriel de Luetz to accompany him in his campaign.[10] Gabriel de Luetz was able to give decisive military advice to Suleiman, as when he advised on artillery placement during the Siege of Vān.[18]

Next, Suleiman tried to exploit the disloyalty of Tahmasp's brother Alqas Mirza, who was governor of the frontier province of Shirvan. Alqas had rebelled and, fearing his brother's wrath, he had fled to the Ottoman court. He persuaded Suleiman that if he invaded the Iranians would rise up and overthrow Tahmasp. In 1548, Suleiman and Alqas entered Iran with a huge army but Tahmasp had already "scorched the earth" around Tabriz and the Ottomans could find few supplies to sustain themselves. Alqas penetrated further into Iran but the citizens of Isfahan and Shiraz refused to open their gates to him. He was forced to retreat to Baghdad where the Ottomans abandoned him as an embarrassment. Captured by the Iranians, his life was spared but he was condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison in the fortress of Qahqaha.[19]

During the final Ottoman invasion of Iran in 1553, Tahmasp seized the initiative and defeated Iskandar Pasha near Erzerum. He also captured one of Suleiman's favourites, Sinan Beg. This persuaded the sultan to come to terms at the Peace of Amasya in 1555. The treaty freed Iran from Ottoman attacks for three decades. Nevertheless, Tahmasp took the precaution of transferring his capital from Tabriz to Qazvin, which was further away from the border.[19]

Despite that Tahmasp's tactics were largely successful during the war, Safavid Iran was forced to make certain concessions per the Amasya Treaty; historical Armenia and Georgia were divided equally between the two, with Western Armenia and western Georgia falling in Ottoman hands and Eastern Armenia and eastern Georgia staying in Safavid Iranian hands, the Ottoman Empire obtained also most of Iraq, including Baghdad, which gave them access to the Persian Gulf, while the Persians retained their former capital Tabriz and all their other north-western territories in the Caucasus (Dagestan, Azerbaijan) and as they were prior to the wars.[20] Erzurum, Van, and Shahrizor became buffer zones.

Between 1540 and 1553, Tahmasp conducted military campaigns in the Caucasus region in both his territories and beyond, capturing many tens of thousands of Armenians, Georgians and Circassians.[21] These would become an important new element in Iranian society.[21]

Royal refugees: Bayezid and Humayun[edit]

Shah Tahmasp and the Mughal Emperor Humayun in Isfahan.

In 1544, the Mughal emperor, Humayun, fled to Tahmasp's court after he had been overthrown by the Pashtun rebel Sher Shah Suri (Sher Khan). Tahmasp insisted on the Sunni Humayun converting to Shi'ism before he would help him. Humayun reluctantly agreed and also gave Tahmasp the strategically important city of Kandahar in exchange for Iranian military assistance against the heirs of Sher Khan and his own rebellious brothers. By 1555, he had regained his throne.[22][23]

Humayun was not the only royal figure to seek refuge at Tahmasp's court. A dispute arose in the Ottoman Empire over who was to succeed the aged Suleiman the Magnificent. Suleiman's favourite wife, Hürrem Sultan, was eager for her son, Selim, to become the next sultan. But Selim was an alcoholic and Hürrem's other son, Bayezid, had shown far greater military ability. The two princes quarrelled and eventually Bayezid rebelled against his father. His letter of remorse never reached Suleiman and he was forced to flee abroad to avoid execution. In 1559 Bayezid arrived in Iran where Tahmasp gave him a warm welcome. Suleiman was eager to negotiate his son's return, but Tahmasp rejected his promises and threats until, in 1561 Suleiman compromised with him. In September of that year, Tahmasp and Bayezid were enjoying a banquet at Tabriz when Tahmasp suddenly pretended he had received news that the Ottoman prince was engaged in a plot against his life. An angry mob gathered and Tahmasp had Bayezid put into custody, alleging it was for his own safety. Tahmasp then handed the prince over to the Ottoman ambassador. Shortly afterwards, Bayezid was killed by agents sent by his own father.[24]

Final years[edit]

In 1574, Tahmasp fell ill and discord broke out among the Qizilbash once more, this time over which prince was to succeed him. The shah's Georgian and Circassian wives had also introduced a new faction into the court. Seven of Tahmasp's surviving sons were by Georgian or Circassian mothers and two by a Turcoman.[25] Of the latter, Mohammed Khodabanda was regarded as unfit to rule because he was almost blind, and his younger brother, Ismail, had been imprisoned by Tahmasp since 1555. Nevertheless, one court faction supported Ismail, while another backed Haydar Mirza Safavi, the son of a Georgian. Tahmasp himself was believed to favour Haydar but he prevented his supporters from killing Ismail.[26]

Tahmasp died as a result of poison, although it is unclear whether this was by accident or on purpose. On his death, as expected, fighting broke out between the different court factions. Haydar was killed and Ismail emerged triumphant as Shah Ismail II.[27]

In 1574, Tahmasp also had the 36th Nizari Ismaili Shia Imam Murād Mīrzā executed, due to the perceived political threat he posed.

Tahmasp and the arts[edit]

Tahmasp was an enthusiastic patron of the arts with a particular interest in the Persian miniature, especially book illustration. He had been trained in drawing himself, and had some talent. The most famous example of such work is the Shāhnāma-yi Shāh Tahmāsbī (King's Book of Kings), commissioned for Tahmasb by his father and containing 250 miniatures by the leading court artists of the era.[28] However, in the 1540s he is recorded as losing interest in the arts, and his imperial atelier largely dispersed.

The reign of Tahmasp I is considered the most brilliant period in the history of the Azerbaijani language and Azerbaijani literature at this stage of its development.[29]

Tahmasp was against music and dispelled all the musicians from his court.[30][31]


He married eight times:

  1. Kadamali Sultan Begum, née Sultanum Begum daughter of Musa Sultan bin Isa Beg Musullu, of the Aq Quyunlu, his maternal first cousin;
  2. Sultan Agha Khanum, a Circassian, sister of Shamkhal Kara-Musal Sultan, Governor of Sakki;
  3. Sultanzada Khanum, daughter of Ali Khan Gorji, a Georgian;
  4. Zahra Baji, daughter of Prince Ot'ar Shalikashvili of Samtskhe from Shalikashvili family of Georgia
  5. Khan Parwar Khanum, a sister of Zali Beg Gorji, a Georgian;
  6. Huri Khan Khanum, daughter of the Governor of Daghestan, a Georgian;
  7. Aisha Begum, daughter of Sufian Khan, Khan of Khiva;
  8. Zainab Sultan Khanum, widow of his younger brother Shahzada ‘Abdl Fath Muiz ud-din Bahram Mirza, and sister of Imad ud-din Shirvani.[1]


  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan ‘Ali Quli Mirza (b. 1528–d. 1529)
  • Mohammed Khodabanda
  • Ismail II
  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan Murad Mirza (b. 1538–d. 5 September 1545) Governor of Kandahar 1545.
  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan Soleiman Mirza (b. at Nikhichivan, 1554–k. at Qazvin, 2 November 1576) Governor of Fars 1555–1557, and Mashhad 1576.
  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan Heidar Mirza (b. 1555–k. at Qazvin, 14 May 1576) having had issue, a daughter, married Hasan Khan Ustajalu. She had issue, 4 sons.
  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan Mostafa Mirza (b. 1557–k. at Qazvin, 2 November 1576) having had issue, 2 daughters, Princess Mahd-e-Olia married Abbas I and a daughter who married Zulfikhar Khan Karamanlu and had issue, 2 sons.
  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan Mahmud Mirza (b. 1559–k. at Qazvin, 24 February 1577) Governor Shirvan 1566–1567, and of Lahijan 1567–1571, having had issue, a son, Prince Mohammad Baqer Mirza (b. 1575–k. 24 February 1577)
  • Prince Shahzadeh Imam Qoli Mirza (b. 1562–k. at Qazvin, 24 February 1577), without issue.
  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan ‘Ali Mirza (b. at Qazvin, 1563– d. at Isfahan, 31 January 1642) Governor of Ganja 1570–1577. He was blinded and imprisoned by Shah Abbas I at Alamut. m. Kabuli Begum, having had issue, one son, Prince Shahzada Soltan Mustafa Mirza.
  • Prince Shahzadeh Sultan Ahmad Mirza (b. at Qazvin, 1564–k. at Qazvin, 24 February 1577)
  • Prince Shahzadeh Zeinal Abedin Mirza (d. before 1576)
  • Prince Shahzadeh Musa Mirza (d. before 1576)


  • Princess Shahzadeh Alamiyan Gowhar Sultan Beygom (b. 1540– d. 19 May 1577) married Prince ‘Abu’l Fath Soltan Ibrahim Mirza (b. 1543– k. 24 February 1577) son of paternal uncle, Shahzada ‘Abu’l Fath Muiz ud-din Bahram Mirza son of Ismail I, having had issue, one daughter, Princess Gowhar Shad Begum (b. 1561–d. ?)
  • Princess ShAlamiyan Khadija Sultan Begum, m. (first) her cousin, Jamshid Khan Gilani (b. 1557– k. 1580) son of Soltan Mahmud Mirza Gilani, governor of Fuman. m. (second) as his third wife, Mir Nimatu’llah Yazdi Zu’l-Nurain, eldest son of Amir Ghiyas ed-din Muhammad Yazdi Mir-i-Miran, having had issue, two sons, by her first husband.
  • Princess Shahzadi Alamiyan Zainab Beygom (b. 1550–d. at Isfahan, 14 May 1641) unmarried and without issue
  • Princess Shahzadi Alamiyan Mariam Sultan Beygom (b. 1551–d. at Isfahan, 1608), m. (first) Khan Ahmad Khan governor of Gilan, m. (second) as his second wife, Mir Nematu’llah Yazdi Zu’l-Nurain, eldest son of Amir Ghiyas ed-din Muhammad Yazdi Mir-i-Miran, having had issue one daughter and one son, by her first husband.
  • Princess Shahzadi Alamiyan Beygom Khanoum, m. Musib Beyg Khan, son of Muhammad Khan Takahi.
  • Princess Shahzadi Alamiyan Khanish Begom. (b. after 1562–d. at Isfahan, 1590) m. as his first wife, Mir Nimatu’llah Yazdi Zu’l-Nurain, eldest son of Amir Ghiyas ed-din Muhammad Yazdi Mir-i-Miran, having had issue, two sons.
  • Princess Shahzadi Alamiyan Fatemeh Sultan Beygom, m. Amir Khan Musallu (k. at Qahqaha, 1584) son of Muhsmmad Beyg Mosalla.
  • Princess Shahzadi Alamiyan Shahbanu Khanum, m. his first wife, her cousin, Amir Salman Khan Ustajalu son of Shah ‘Ali Quli Mirza Ustajalu.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d The Royal Ark
  2. ^ "ṬAHMĀSP I". Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "ČARKAS". Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  4. ^ Islamic Societies to the Nineteenth Century: A Global History. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  5. ^ Shaw, Stanford J. (1976), History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, Volume 1, p. 109. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-29163-1
  6. ^ Women in Iran: From the Rise of Islam to 1800 ed. Nashat and Beck (University of Illinois Press, 2003) p. 145
  7. ^ Andrew J. Newman Safavid Iran (I.B. Tauris) p. 23
  8. ^ Battle of Jam (1528), Alexander Mikaberidze, Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, (ABC-CLIO, 2011), 442-443.
  9. ^ Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, (Cambridge University Press, 1980), 51–58.
  10. ^ Cite error: The named reference Fisher was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ Cite error: The named reference Reston was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  12. ^ a b Memoirs of the court, aristocracy, and diplomacy of Austria Carl Eduard Vehse p.71 [1]
  13. ^ Cite error: The named reference Iranica was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  14. ^ The Indian Ocean in world history Milo Kearney - 2004 - p.112
  15. ^ Europe and Islam Franco Cardini p.153
  16. ^ The Cambridge history of Islam by Peter Malcolm Holt p.330
  17. ^ Garnier, p.16
  18. ^ Nahavandi and Bomati p. 283
  19. ^ a b Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 62–63.
  20. ^ The Reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566, V.J. Parry, A History of the Ottoman Empire to 1730, ed. M.A. Cook (Cambridge University Press, 1976), 94.
  21. ^ a b Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 64-65.
  22. ^ Nahavandi and Bomati pp. 286–287
  23. ^ Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 66–67.
  24. ^ Nahavandi and Bomati pp. 284–286
  25. ^ Her name was Sultanum Bekum Mawsillu (Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran, I.B. Tauris, 2004, p. 42)
  26. ^ Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 69.
  27. ^ Cambridge History of Iran Vol. 6, p. 248
  28. ^ Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 129.
  29. ^ "AZERBAIJAN x. Azeri Turkish Literature – Encyclopaedia Iranica". iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  30. ^ "نگاهی به موسیقی دوره ی صفویه (905 - 1135 ق) ,مجله گلستان هنر , پاییز و زمستان 1384 - شماره 2 , صفحه 141 , تصویر | پایگاه مجلات تخصصی نور". web.archive.org. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  31. ^ Newman, A.J. (2006). Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire. I. B. Tauris. p. 32. ISBN 9781860646676. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 


External links[edit]

Tahmasp I
Preceded by
Isma'il I
Shah of Persia
Succeeded by
Isma'il II