Shah Abbas the great is considered to be the greatest leader of the Safavid dynasty. Shah Abbas I was born on 27th January 1571 and died on 19th January 1629. He was the third born of Shah Mohammad. At the time he ascended to the throne Iran was in trouble. It had been divided into different factions by the Qizilbash army. In addition, the army had killed the queen and the grand vizier. These acts had greatly undermined the royal authority.
Iran’s enemies had seized the opportunity to invade vast territories. The Ottoman Empire had seized Tabriz city and other territories in the west and northwest while Uzbeks had taken over half of Khorasan city, which was in the north east. A Qizilbash army leader, Murshid Qoli khan dethroned Abbas’ father in a coup in 1587, and installed Abbas, who was only 16 years old at the time. Abbas reduced the army’s influence in his government and made reforms in the military. He regained territory from the Portuguese and Mughals after a fight with the Empires of Ottomans and the Uzbeks. During his reign, Abbas built a lot and even transferred his capital from Qazvin to Isfahan.
Despite all the positive things he did, Abbas had his sons either blinded or killed due to suspicion that they would overthrow him.
Major Aspects of the Transformation
Reduction of Qizilbash’ Power
The Qizilbash was the backbone of the Iranian army from the start of the Safavid rule. In addition to the army Qizilbash occupied a lot of posts in the government and in order to curtail their powers Abbas empowered the ghulams. The ghulams were the Georgian, the Armenian, and the Circassian slaves who had been converted to Islam and recruited to serve in the army. Abbas promoted them to high offices of the government. For instance Allahverdi Khan, a Georgian, was made the leader in the ghulam regiment and the governor of the Fars province. Abbas also weakened the Qizilbash’ tribal unity by transferring Qizilbash groups to their compatriots land and removing some Qizilbash leaders from governorship positions.
In addition, Abbas restored the provinces to his control. By removing these powers from the Qizilbash chiefs, Abbas resolved budgetary problems and increased the royal treasury.
Reforms in the Army
Before confronting the Ottoman Empire and the Uzbeks, Abbas had to reform his army first. In addition to the need to confront his enemies, Abbas used the reforms to sideline the Qizilbash. Abbas created a 40000 standing army composed of ghulams and Iranians. This group would fight alongside with the original force that was provided by the original army of Qizilbash.
The army was composed of the largest cavalry of the time and had 10000-15000 men armed with muskets among other weapons. In addition, the army included 12000 strong corps of musketeers, one 12000 strong artillery and 3000 personal guards for Abbas. This whole army was only loyal to the Shah.
In addition to personnel, Abbas increased the number of cannons available to the army. Consequently, he could field 500 cannons in one battle. Abbas enforced strict discipline and instituted severe punishment for looting.
Abbas sought military advice from his brothers, one named Anthony Shirley, and the other named Robert Shirley. The two were envoys from the earl of Essex who had come unofficially to influence Persia against the Ottoman Empire. He also sought advice from other European envoys.
Move of Capital to Isfahan from Qazvin
In 1598, Abbas moved his capital from Qazvin in the northwest to Isfahan in the center. This represented a huge change in the political and economic landscape of Safavid. He built new mosques, colleges, caravansaries and baths.
These improvements made Isfahan one of the most attractive cities in the world. Isfahan’s exemplary town plan and a clear layout of the city center were a reflection of the capital’s status as the empire’s capital. It became the architectural center of achievement for Safavid. There were numerous monuments such as the Masjed-e shah and Masjed-e sheik Lotfollah mosques, Ali Qapu, the Nagsh-I Jahan square and the Chehel Sotoun palace.
Abbas’ Religious Attitude
Despite Abbas being a strict Shi’ite Muslim, he was tolerant to Christianity. He had a good knowledge of the history of Christians and theology. This was helpful in his quest to form diplomatic ties with European Christian states. The ties were very vital as they helped him fight a common enemy of the empire and Europe, the Ottoman Empire. This move was a contrast to Abbas’ predecessor who never welcomed the Europeans.
Shah Abbas I’s tolerance to Christianity was his policy aimed at establishing links with the powers of the Europeans who were predominantly Christian. With the help of such powers, Shah Abbas made an ally to successfully fight the Ottoman Empire, which was also an enemy of the Europeans. Such an idea had earlier been tried a century before by Uzun Hassan who ruled some part of Iran. Uzun Hassan had solicited for the military help of the Venetians, and there was, however, no Safavid who had tried it.
Abbas’ Character and Legacy
Shah Abbas I was endowed with great understanding, acumen, native sagacity and possessed sound judgment in the problems or challenges he faced daily. After gaining power, he set a new bar for the standard of administration, conduct of war, management of army’s conduct of war and tactics in the battle field and in the dispensation of justice. His decrees were excellent and were accepted as a model by other princes of the world. In addition to being a very wise and experienced officer during his service in the many battles, sieges and conquests which he had been involved in as a youth, his judgment was superior, and his wisdom was the driving factor that solved his problems in the long run.
Shah Abbas I was a brilliant strategist. He was very tactical and had a prudent character. His way of making ends meet was diplomacy instead of war which was common at the time. He also showed immense patience while pursuing his objective. He had waited patiently for his regent to eliminate Qizilbash opposition to his rule, Qizilbash dissenters who had backed Abbas’ rival Abu Talib. It was after the potential threats incarcerated and Murshid Quli Khan, a very influential Qizilbash opposition, was executed that Abbas started to assert his independence from his regent.
At the age of only seventeen years, Abbas assassinated his pawn in pursuit for personal power in the Qizilbash Safavi relation. He relied to purge against the loyalists to Ulstaju Khan, his Qizilbash tutor on the ghulams and Shahisivans.
Abbas ended the 1576-1590 civil wars that had erupted when Tahmasb died. He removed Qizilbash rebellious governors such as Afshar and Zul Qadr. These two Qizilbash leaders had ruled the southern provinces since 1503, the time of Ismail’s conquest. They had refused to be loyal to the shah and had tried to assert their independence.
Abbas sent new commanders to conquer the provinces from the dominion of these Qizilbash leaders. He then named a newly converted ghulams Allah Verdi the governor of Fars in 1595 and appointed him an administrator of 300 slaves. Abbas made use of royal slaves who were being trained as palace pages by introducing them to central and provincial administration. He also increased their numbers tremendously. By the turn of the 17th century Abbas I had started to grant them gubernatorial positions.
Abbas centralized his rule, the Isfahani phase of Safavi rule. These reforms had altered Iran’s political and religious landscape tremendously, particularly to those who were used to be treated with special honor like the Qizilbash. This meant that much Qizilbash no longer enjoyed political and economic privileges. A lot of the Qizilbash tribal territory was now governed by the newly appointed slaves.
However, the troubles of his childhood and civil wars made him very suspicious and brutal. He eliminated royal princes by killing or blinding them. He excluded them from the affairs of the state and ensured that they did not have contact with the leading aristocrats and the generals of the empire. He curtailed their education to stop their empowerment as competent successors.
Despite all that, Abbas gained a lot of support from the ordinary people. He repeatedly spent a lot of time with them. He even frequented public places in Isfahan such as bazaars.
How Development of Imperial Legitimacy Relates to Changes in Military and Administrative Institutions
Shah Abbas’ Concern for Justice and Security for his Subject
Abbas viewed governing as preservation of the stability within the kingdom. Prior to his crowning, Iran had been plagued by insecurity. It had become very insecure to even just travel upcountry. Abbas turned his attention to this kind of people. He called for them to be identified, and then set to be eliminated. Within a short period of time, a great number of the robbers’ leaders, Abbas sought some of the robbers’ problem by administering royal favors. With the robbers’ issues sorted out the roads opened up to merchants and tradesmen to travel to and from Safavid Empire hence sorted some of the Safavids economic problems.
Abbas constantly tried to alleviate the hardship of his subject, especially the poor and tried to ensure that they lived in a condition of want. In addition, Abbas gave the descendants of prophets and other well-known people of the Empire who had started to live in hardships a lump sum form the treasury to ensure they lived well.
Shah Abbas Authority
From the childhood Abbas had a despotic behavior and usually he had a quick temper. Abbas was never slow to meet punishment to wrongdoers. These punishments to the wrongdoers constituted a huge part of the command of the armies, the empires’ government and ministries to his people. Abbas was never intimidated by the social status or the rank of any individual when meeting the punishments. His position was well known in the
Empire and became very vital in ensuring that his orders were carried out without the usual delays. Before his reign, the tribes were slow in answering orders including those that entailed mobilization of the army. In his reign anyone who failed to answer mobilization call was put to death if he failed to show the cause of his delay.
Shah Abbas’ Policy Making and Administration
Shah Abbas is considered to be the founder of the laws of the realm and was a great example to other princes of the world. He was responsible for some very weighty legislation in the administration field.
His major administration legislations were on military administration, in regard to the kind of the reforms made in the army. Rivalries in the Qizilbash tribes had led to their commitment of all manner of enormities. Their devotion to the Safavid royal house had been weakened by dissensions. Consequently shah Abbas decided to admit to the armies other groups rather than the Qizilbash. He enrolled Georgian, Circassians, and other ghulams and even created the office of qollar-aqasi, the office of the commander in chief.
How the Approaches of the Modern Historians Differ
The consequences of his decisions differ among modern historians. For instance, shah Abbas’ transfer of the capital from Qazvin city to Isfahan city had differing consequences. Careful examination of a number of Persian and European sources suggests that the move was faulty. The hypothesis posits a two stage transformation of Isfahan from a provincial center to the capital of the empire. Abbas’s actions were motivated by political and economic reforms that he had just undertaken. In contrast, present interpretation assumes that the central location of Isfahan was the motivation behind the move.
According to Blake, Munshi’s narrative was not adequate as it did not allow for a coherent and an integrated interpretation of the evidences. Blake only concurs with Isfahan being given prominence on the basis of its fertility. Beyond that, his explanations diverged. To him, Abbas transformation of Isfahan to the imperial center had two parts each set in a different place at different times posited previously. One part was in 999/1590 at Maydan-I and the other part at Naqshi-I Jahan. In this case, questions regarding the time of transfer, where the headquarters were to be centered and why, are yet to be answered.
How the Approaches of the Modern Historians Resemble
The approaches of the modern historians concur that the rapid development of Isfahan had concrete economic dimensions. It was also in line with the effort to advance the military and the spiritual authority. A decade in his reign Isfahan had more than 600 Sarais. Many of them were serving as centers for professionals and merchants and contributed essential revenue that helped support to schools, hospices and mosques.
In addition, Babayan agrees with Munshi that Abbas’ reign displayed a lot of sensibility especially in the start. He showed patience and capitalized on his triumph over Qizilbash regent. This, according to Babayan and Munshi, helped end the civil war that had plagued the empire.
On military, modern historians resemble with Munshi that Abbas’s strategy on discipline and administration was decisive to his conquest on the territories that had been taken by Iran’s enemies, the Ottomans and the Uzbeks. In particular his new approach on military administration and the inclusion of non-Qizilbash’ in the army were all crucial in his win over the influence that the Qizilbash chief’s had.
On building Isfahan and renovations to set it out as the headquarters of the empire, both Munshi and the modern scholars agree on the immense economic and strategic advantage that the move brought. Abbas introduced new measures, which included tough disciplinary punishments on those who never responded to mobilization calls or those who looted regardless of their ranks. Modern scholars agree on Munshi’s narrations of the accounts. His documentation of the accounts is clear and can be supported by picture evidences.
Abbas moved to make ties with Europe, which had a common enemy with his empire, the Ottoman Empire. To both Munshi and modern historians, such a move, despite not being popular due to the empire’s attitude to Christianity, was critical in helping Abbas win in his quest to recapture the territories that the Ottoman Empire had captured.