IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > C. The Middle East and North Africa, 1500–1800 > 2. The Middle East, 1501–1808 > b. Iran
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1501)
b. Iran
SHAH ISMA‘IL, FOUNDER OF THE SAFAVID DYNASTY. In 1501 Isma‘il occupied Tabriz and proclaimed himself shah. Within a decade he conquered the territories constituting present-day Iran as well as Iraq and parts of eastern Anatolia. His ascension to power culminated a long struggle by the Safavid movement, which had built a mass following in northwestern Iran and eastern Anatolia, especially among the Turkoman tribesmen. These followers of the Safavids, known as the Qizilbash (“Redheads”) because of their distinctive red headgear, felt a devotion to Isma‘il both as a temporal leader and as head of the Safavid religious order. Isma‘il, who claimed descent from the founder of the movement, the Sufi leader Sheik Safi al-Din (1252–1334), embraced Shi’ism, although some of his beliefs—in his own divine qualities, messianic mission, and infallibility—reflected the religious syncretisms of the contemporary Safavid milieu.  1
Isma‘il's advent to power signaled the end of Sunni Islam in Iran. He imposed Shi’ism as the state religion, forcing conversion upon the largely Sunni population of the country. Initially he had to import Shi’ite religious authorities from Lebanon, Iraq, and Bahrain, so few were their numbers in Iran. By the 18th century, the great majority of the population had become Shi’ites, and Shi’ite theologians dominated the religious establishment.  2
The Safavid dynasty founded by Isma‘il held effective power in Iran until 1722, although nominal Safavid rulers remained on the scene as political pawns for many years after. The regime rested in good part on the support of the Qizilbash, who helped bring it to power. Tribal chiefs were granted governorships of provinces and high positions in the central government. The Qizilbash also controlled military forces that helped them maintain their influence. A second element in the ruling elite was the Persian bureaucracy, which was essential to the machinery of government. Although there were rivalries between the two elements, in the course of time they formed marital and political alliances that cut across group lines.  3
Muhammad Baha' al-Dawla, an Iranian physician and scholar, published The Quintessence of Experience, a work based on his clinical medical experience, which contained the first known description of whooping cough as well as accounts of chicken pox and German measles. His manuscript also detailed the earliest description of syphilis in the East.  4
Death of Sayfi of Bukhara, an artisan and poet who wrote more than a hundred odes, each dedicated to practitioners of different crafts. This form of poetry, called shahr-ashub (“city disturbing”), combined Sufi mystical terminology with details about specific crafts. The verses reveal technical, religious, and social aspects of the many guilds (asnaf) that flourished throughout Iran. Often these poems were written in a jargon understood only by guild members.  5
Death of Mulla Husayn Kashefi, the author of Rawzat al-shuhada' (The Garden of Martyrs), the earliest text for the public recitation and remembrance of the martyrdom of the third Shi’ite imam Husayn (d. 680). The commemoration of Husayn's death during the Muslim month of Muharram became part of an annual public mourning ritual that reached its full dramatic potential in the later Safavid period in the form of the ta‘ziyeh, or passion play, a distinctly Iranian Shi’ite form of popular religious remembrance.  6
The Portuguese capture of the island of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. It became a naval base and trade outpost. The shah, who had no navy, reluctantly accepted this European presence, which lasted until 1622, when the Portuguese were evicted with British help.  7
The Safavids extended their control into the region of Diyarbakr in eastern Anatolia.  8
The Safavids took Baghdad and Iraq.  9
Capture of Khurasan. Shah Isma‘il absorbed the large province into his state after defeating the Uzbeks and killing their leader, Muhammad Shaybani, in a battle near Merv. The Uzbeks remained a formidable adversary of the Safavids throughout the century.  10
1514, Aug. 23
Battle of Chaldiran, in which Shah Isma‘il's army suffered a crushing defeat by the Ottomans, who acted in retaliation for Safavid support of Turkoman revolts in Anatolia. The Ottoman victory resulted from superior numbers as well as the use of field artillery and guns, not employed by the Safavid army on this occasion. The battle opened the way for the Ottoman conquest of Diyarbakr, Erzinjan, and other parts of eastern Anatolia as well as northern Iraq.  11
Shah Isma‘il brought the famous Timurid painter Bihzad from Herat to Tabriz and appointed him director of the royal library. Bihzad's successors formed a brilliant artistic school that produced some of the finest Persian manuscript illustrations.  12
SHAH TAHMASP I. The eldest son of Isma‘il ascended the throne at the age of ten, and for the first ten years of his reign, real power was held by a number of leaders of competing Qizilbash factions, whose feuding caused much political instability. In 1533 Tahmasp asserted his authority. One of his legacies was the introduction of converted slaves into court and the military. They were drawn from thousands of Georgian, Circassian, and Armenian prisoners captured in campaigns fought in the Caucasus in the 1540s and 1550s. Female slaves entered the royal harem, becoming mothers of princes and a force in court politics and dynastic quarrels. Some of the male slaves began to acquire positions of influence, reaching, under Shah Abbas, high offices that challenged the supremacy of the Qizilbash.  13
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.