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AP World History
POD #12 – Ottoman & Safavid
Safavid Empire
Class Discussion Notes
Bulliet et. al. – “The Safavid
Empire, 1502-1722” , pp. 541-545
Safavid Empire
 “The Safavid Empire of Iran resembled its long
time Ottoman foe in many ways: It initially relied
militarily on cavalry paid through land grants; its
population spoke several different languages;
and it was oriented inward away from the sea. It
also had distinct qualities that to this day set Iran
off from its neighbors: it derived part of its
legitimacy from the pre-Islamic dynasties of
ancient Iran, and adopted the Shi’ite form of
Islam” (Bulliet, p. 541)
 Ismail was the ultimate victor in the region during
and intense and complicated power struggle
 He was a boy of Kurdish, Iranian and Greek
ancestry who proclaimed himself Shah at the
age of 16
 Declared allegiance to Shi’ite Islam, which
revered the family of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali
 This decision created a deep divide between
Iran and its Sunni neighbors
 The actions of Ismail turned Iran into a separate
country for the first time since the Islamic
caliphate in the 7th century
Persian Culture
 Differences between Iran and its neighbors were
long in the making
 Persian – written in Arabic script from the 10th
century emerged as a second Islamic language
 Iranian scholars and writers normally read
Arabic, as well as Persian, and used Arabic
phrases in their writing
 The Arabs were less inclined to learn Persian
 Iran became known for painted and molded
mosaic tiles and carpet design and production
Iranian Isolation & Interaction
After the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, the
capital of the Islamic caliphate, in 1258,
Iran developed largely on its own, having
more extensive contacts with India –
where Muslim rulers favored the Persian
language – than with the Arabs.
Hidden Imam
 Shi’ite doctrine taught that all worldly rulers, regardless
of title, are temporary stand ins for the “Hidden Imam”
 The Hidden Imam was said to be the 12th descendent of
Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law,
who disappeared as a child in the 9th century
 Some believed the faithful should calmly and quietly
accept the world as it was and wait for the return of the
Hidden Imam
 Some claimed they should have a greater leadership
role in political affairs because they were best qualified
to fulfill the wishes of the Hidden Imam
 As a result of this idea, religious scholars played a
prominent role in Iranian society (and still do today) and
they have never become subordinate to the secular
Military Crisis
 The Safavids, much like the Ottomans found it difficult to
pay and supply troops armed with firearms
 Cannons were needed in greater supply by the late 16th
century to hold off the Ottoman and Uzbeks enemies
 Like the Ottoman cavalry the Safavid warriors were not
willing to exchange their traditional bow and arrow for
modern weaponry
 Shah Abbas was forced to create an army of slaves
armed with guns able to fight year round – this army was
initially made up of Christian converts to Islam who were
taken during raids on Georgia in the Caucasus
Economic Crisis
 Inflation caused by the influx of cheap silver
 Overland trade through the empire declined due to
mismanagement of the silk monopoly after the death of
Shah Abbas in 1629
 There was no money left to pay for the military, as well
as, the government bureaucracy
 The government was unable to remove the nomads from
their lands as a means to regain control of the taxes
 1722 – the government was so weak and ineffective that
it was overrun by an army of Afghans who were able to
capture Isfahan and end Safavid rule