Ismail I

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Ismail I
Shahanshah of Persia
Сефи 1-й 1629-42.jpg
Shah Ismail I.
BornJuly 17, 1487
DiedMay 23, 1524
Place of deathTabriz
SuccessorTahmasp I
Consortdaughter of Shirvanshah II Khalilullah[1][2][3][4]
Royal HouseSafavid dynasty
FatherHaydar Safavi
MotherHalima Begum a.k.a. Martha, daughter of Uzun Hasan
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Ismail I
Shahanshah of Persia
Сефи 1-й 1629-42.jpg
Shah Ismail I.
BornJuly 17, 1487
DiedMay 23, 1524
Place of deathTabriz
SuccessorTahmasp I
Consortdaughter of Shirvanshah II Khalilullah[1][2][3][4]
Royal HouseSafavid dynasty
FatherHaydar Safavi
MotherHalima Begum a.k.a. Martha, daughter of Uzun Hasan

Ismail I (July 17, 1487 – May 23, 1524), known in Persian as Shāh Ismāʿil, (Azerbaijani: Şah İsmayıl Səfəvi, شاه اسماعیل, Persian: شاه اسماعیل‎; full name: Abū l-Muzaffar bin Haydar as-Safavī), was Shah of Iran (1501)[5][6] and the founder of the Safavid dynasty which survived until 1736. Isma'il started his campaign in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1500 as the leader of the Safaviyya, a Twelver Shia militant religious order, and unified all of Iran by 1509.[7] Born in Ardabil in Northwestern Iran, he reigned as Shah Ismail I of Iran from 1501 to 1524.

The dynasty founded by Ismail I would rule for two centuries, it was one of the greatest Persian empires after the Muslim conquest of Persia[8][9][10][11] it also reasserted the Iranian identity in Greater Iran,[12] the legacy of the Safavid Empire was also the revival of Persia as an economic stronghold between East and West, the establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy, their architectural innovations and their patronage for fine arts.

Ismail played a key role in the rise of Twelver Islam; he converted Iran from Sunni to Shi'a Islam, importing religious authorities from the Levant.[13] In Alevism, Shah Ismail remains revered as a spiritual guide.

Ismail was also a prolific poet who, under the pen name Khatā'ī (which means "sinner" in Arabic) contributed greatly to the literary development of the Azerbaijani language,[14] he also contributed to Persian literature, though only a few specimens of his Persian verse have survived.[15]


The battle between the young Ismail and Shah Farrukh Yassar of Shirvan

Ismail was born to Martha and Shaykh Haydar on July 17, 1487 in Ardabil. His father, Haydar, was the sheikh of the Safaviyya Sufi order and a direct descendant of its Kurdish[16][17][18] founder, Safi-ad-din Ardabili (1252–1334). Ismail was the last in line of hereditary Grand Masters of the Safaviyah Sufi order, prior to his ascent to a ruling dynasty. His mother Martha, better known as Halima Begum, was the daughter of Uzun Hasan by his Pontic Greek wife Theodora Megale Komnene, better known as Despina Khatun.[19] Despina Khatun was the daughter of Emperor John IV of Trebizond. (She had married Uzun Hassan in a deal to protect Trebizond from the Ottomans.[20]) Ismail grew up bilingual, speaking Persian and Azerbaijani.[21][22]

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. Due to the great spiritual charisma of Safi al-Din, the order was later known as the Safaviyya. Like his father and grandfather Ismail headed the Safaviyya sufi order. An invented 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.[23]


In 1488, the father of Ismail was killed in a battle against the forces of the Shirvanshah king Farrukh Yassar and the Aq Qoyunlu, in 1494 the Aq Qoyunlu Turks 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 he received education under the guidance of renowned scholars.

When Ismail reached the age of 12, he came out of hiding and returned to Iranian Azerbaijan along with his followers. Ismail's advent to power was due to Turkoman tribes of Anatolia and Azerbaijan, who formed the most important part of the Qizilbash movement.[24]

Campaigns in Iran[edit]

In the summer of 1500, about 7000 Qizilbash forces, consisted of Ustaclu, Shamlu, Rumlu, Tekelu, Zhulkadir, Afshar, Qajar and Varsak tribes, responded to the invitation of Ismail in Erzincan.[25] Qizilbash forces passed over the Kura River in November 1500, and marched towards the Shirvanshah's state. They defeated the forces under the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar near Cabanı (present-day Shamakhi Rayon, Azerbaijan), and conquered Baku.[26] In July 1501, Ismail was enthroned as Shah of Azerbaijan,[27] choosing Tabriz, Azerbaijan, as his capital. When the Safavids came to power in 1501, Shah Ismail was 14 years old; by 1510 he had conquered whole Iran.[28] After defeating the Aq Qoyunlu in 1502, he took the title of Shah of Iran.[6]

When Ismail captured Iraq he began destroying Sunni sites in Baghdad including tombs of Abbasid Caliphs, tombs of Sunni Imam Abū Ḥanīfah and Abdul Qadir Gilani.[29]

In 1510, Ismail I moved against the Uzbeks. In battle near the city of Merv, some 17,000 Qizilbash warriors ambushed and defeated a superior 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.[30]

War against the Ottomans and death[edit]

Artwork of the Battle of Chaldiran.

In 1514, Selim I, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, attacked Ismail's kingdom. Selim and Ismail had been exchanging a series of belligerent letters prior to the attack.

Selim I defeated Ismail at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514.[31] Ismail's army was more mobile and their 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 I entered the Iranian capital of Tabriz in triumph on September 5,[32] but did not linger. A mutiny among his troops fearing a counterattack and entrapment by the fresh Safavid forces called in from the interior, forced the triumphant Ottomans to withdraw prematurely. This allowed Ismail to recover quickly. Among the booties 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 shores of the Indian Ocean.

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.[33]

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.[34]

After the Battle of Chaldiran, Ismail lost his supernatural air and the aura of invincibility, gradually falling into heavy drinking of alcohol.[35] Ismail retired to his palace and withdrew from active participation in the affairs of the state, leaving these to his minister, Mirza Shah-Hussayn.[36] He died on 23 May 1524 at the relatively early age of thirty-six. To consolidate his position and get the Iranians to fight the Ottomans, Ismail then made the Twelver shia the official religion of Iran.

The consequences of the defeat at Chaldiran were also psychological for Ismail: the defeat destroyed Ismail's belief in his invincibility, based on his claimed divine status.[37] His relationships with his Qizilbash followers were also 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 lost Balkh and Kandahar to the Mughals, and Herat to the Uzbeks.[38]

Ismail died on May 23, 1524 and was buried in Ardabil, he was succeeded by his son Tahmasp I.

Contacts with Europe[edit]

After his defeat by the Ottomans, Ismail tried to make an alliance with European powers, with the aim of attacking the Ottomans on two fronts. In 1516, a Maronite monk named Petrus de Monte Libano arrived in Persia as an ambassador from Louis II of Hungary, and about the same time Ismail also received an envoy from Charles V, king of Spain. Ismail’s replies to those two monarchs are not extant, but in 1523 he sent a letter in Latin to Charles. In this letter Ismail complained that the Christian powers, instead of combining to fight the Turks, were squabbling among themselves; he urged Charles to mobilize his forces and attack the Turks. Charles’s reply, dated February 1529, was still addressed to Ismail, though Ismail had been dead for five years and he had been succeeded by his son Shah Tahmasp I. The slowness of communications between Asia and Europe militated against the execution of any concerted and coordinated action against the Ottomans by Persia and European powers. Shortly before Ismail’s death in 1524, a Portuguese ambassador named Balthasar Pessoa, headed an important Portuguese mission to the Safavid court at Tabriz.

Ismail's poetry[edit]

The battle between Shah Ismail I and the Borjigin Abu'l-Khayr Khan.

Ismail is also known for his poetry using the pen-name Khatā'ī (Arabic: خطائی‎ "Sinner").[39] 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 the young Tahmasp.[40] 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.[41]

He wrote in the Azerbaijani language,[42] and in the Persian language. He is considered an important figure in the literary history of Azerbaijani language and has left approximately 1400 verses in this language, which he chose to use for political reasons.[42] Approximately 50 verses of his Persian poetry have also survived.

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.

As Ismail believed in his own divinity and in his descent from Ali, in his poems he tended to strongly emphasize these claims.[citation needed]

Along with the poet Imadaddin Nasimi, Khatā'ī is considered to be among the first proponents of using a simpler Azeri language in verse that would thereby appeal to a broader audience. His work is most popular in Azerbaijan, as well as among the Bektashis of Turkey. There is a large body of Alevi and Bektashi poetry that has been attributed to him. The major impact of his religious propaganda, in the long run, was the conversion of Persia from Sunni to Shia Islam.[43]

The following anecdote demonstrates the status of vernacular Turkish and Persian in the Ottoman Empire and in the incipient Safavid state. Khatā'ī sent a poem in Turkish to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I before going to war in 1514. In a reply the Ottoman Sultan answered in Persian to indicate his contempt.

One of the examples of his poetry are:[44]

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 Murtadā '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.

Emergence of a clerical aristocracy[edit]

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.[45]

Appearance and skills[edit]

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.[38]


Ismail's greatest legacy was establishing an enduring empire which lasted over 200 years. Even after the fall of 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, where Shi’a Islam is still the official religion as it was during the Safavids.


In the name of Ismail I mentioned:


In Alevism, Shah Ismail is seen as a religious figure, and a moral spiritual leader. His teachings are in the Buyruk.


Ismail I's Statue in Ardabil, Iran.




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mюнeджжим-бaши, c.173
  2. ^ Шapaф-xaн Бидлиcи, т.ц c.169
  3. ^ Xoндeмиp, 'т.III, ч.4, c.570-571, 599-601
  4. ^ Дopн, c.593-595 Эфeндиeв. Heкoтыpыe cвeдeния, c.90.
  5. ^ Ismāʿīl I, in Encyclopædia Britannica, online ed., 2011
  6. ^ a b Woodbridge Bingham, Hilary Conroy, Frank William Iklé, A History of Asia: Formations of Civilizations, From Antiquity to 1600, and Bacon, 1974, p. 116.
  7. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica. R.M. Savory. Esmail Safawi
  8. ^ Helen Chapin Metz. Iran, a Country study. 1989. University of Michigan, p. 313.
  9. ^ Emory C. Bogle. Islam: Origin and Belief. University of Texas Press. 1989, p. 145.
  10. ^ Stanford Jay Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge University Press. 1977, p. 77.
  11. ^ Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire, IB Tauris (March 30, 2006).
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Ismāʿīl I at Encyclopædia Britannica
  14. ^ G. Doerfer, "Azeri Turkish", Encyclopaedia Iranica, viii, Online Edition, p. 246.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Richard Tapper, Frontier nomads of Iran: a political and social history of the Shahsevan, Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-521-58336-7, p. 39;"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...".
  17. ^ EBN BAZZAZ Encyclopedia Iranica
  18. ^ Muḥammad Kamāl, Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy, Ashgate Publishing Inc, 2006, ISBN 0-7546-5271-8, p. 24;"The Safawid was originally a Sufi order whose founder, Shaykh Safi al-Din, a Sunni Sufi master descended from a Kurdish family...".
  19. ^ Peter Charanis. "Review of Emile Janssens' Trébizonde en Colchide", Speculum, Vol. 45, No. 3,, (Jul., 1970), p. 476
  20. ^ Anthony Bryer, open citation, p. 136
  21. ^ 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 pg 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.]".
  22. ^ 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): 1006–53.
  23. ^ Time in Early Modern Islam: Calendar, Ceremony, and Chronology Page 23 By Stephen P. Blake [1]
  24. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica. R. N. Frye. Peoples of Iran.
  25. ^ Faruk Sümer, Safevi Devletinin Kuruluşu ve Gelişmesinde Anadolu Türklerinin Rolü, Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, Ankara, 1992, p. 15. (Turkish)
  26. ^ Nesib Nesibli, "Osmanlı-Safevî Savaşları, Mezhep Meselesi ve Azerbaucan", Türkler, Cilt 6, Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, Ankara, 2002, ISBN 975-6782-39-0, p. 895. (Turkish)
  27. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica: Micropædia, Encyclopædia Britannica, 1991, ISBN 978-0-85229-529-8, p. 295.
  28. ^ BBC, (LINK)
  29. ^ History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey
  30. ^ Abraham Eraly (17 September 2007). Emperors Of The Peacock Throne: The Saga of the Great Moghuls. Penguin Books Limited. p. 25. ISBN 978-93-5118-093-7. 
  31. ^ Michael Axworthy Iran: Empire of the Mind (Penguin, 2008) p.133
  32. ^ The later Crusades, 1274-1580: from Lyons to Alcazar Door Norman Housley, page 120, 1992
  33. ^
  34. ^ A Narrative of Italian Travels in Persia, in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (1873), s. 61
  35. ^ The Cambridge History of Islam, Part 1, By Peter Malcolm Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton, Bernard Lewis, p. 401.
  36. ^ Momen (1985), p. 107.
  37. ^ RM Savory, Safavids, Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed
  38. ^ a b
  39. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica. ٍIsmail Safavi
  40. ^ M.B. Dickson and S.C. Welch, The Houghton Shahnameh, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1981. See p. 34 of vol. I).
  41. ^ R.M. Savory, "Safavids", Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition
  42. ^ a b V. Minorsky, "The Poetry of Shah Ismail I," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 10/4 (1942): 1006–53.
  43. ^
  44. ^ Vladimir Minorsky: The Poetry of Shāh Ismā'īl I, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 10, No. 4. (1942), s. 1042a-1043a
  45. ^ RM Savory, Safavids, Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed page 185-6
  46. ^ Отмечен день рождения Шаха Исмаила Хатаи
  47. ^ The Royal Ark


External links[edit]

Ismail I
New creationShah of Persia
Succeeded by
Tahmasp I