Safavid-Georgian Relations and Territorial Quarrels

  May 23, 2021   Read time 3 min
Safavid-Georgian Relations and Territorial Quarrels
Premodern Iran under Safavid Empire had continuous problems with the neighboring tribes and lands that claimed to be independent or sought to prevail the plateau. Georgians were also among these tribes. Here there was also a religious conflict that exacerbated the situation and created quarrels.

In order to elucidate the domestic repercussions of Safavid-Georgian relations, we must recall the frequent revolts and mutinies of the Qizilbash amirs, the civil wars unleashed by them at the beginning of Shah Tahmasp's reign, their unbridled tribalism, individual cases of desertion to the Ottomans, and their attempt to depose Shah Tahmasp in favour of his brother Sam Mlrza — all alike basically the consequence of the failure of Tahmasp, and still more of Ismail I, to assimilate the old Safavid order, the Qizilbash, within the state. As has already been mentioned, such incidents had led occasionally under Ismail, and all the more under Tahmasp, to successive attempts either to oust the Qizilbash amirs or to reduce their predominance. This was possible only if they could be dislodged from the most important military and administrative posts in the empire. We have seen what courses of action the two rulers adopted in order to attain this goal. They probably realised that although they could obtain partial success by playing off rival tribes or individuals one against the other, no definitive success could be achieved in this way. Shah Ismail's practice of appointing Iranian dignitaries to the highest military posts indicates his awareness that a fundamental change could only be brought about by recruiting non-Turkmen elements. In these efforts not only Persians play a role, but even more so Georgians and Circassians (in the then accepted sense of anyone living north of Darband), who as a rule were recruited into the army as bodyguards. The commander of the royal guard was already gaining more and more importance during the second half of Shah Tahmasp's reign, while the power and influence of the Great Amir (amir al-umara') diminished. This process, which extended over several decades and eventually resulted in the undermining or even neutralisation of the Turkmen military aristocracy, the Qizilbash, did not, of course, escape the attention of the victims, even though to begin with it was not perhaps as apparent as the preference given to representatives of the Persian aristocracy under Shah Isma'il I. They were of course reluctant to accept this turn of events, and so repeated disturbances and rebellions ensued until Shah 'Abbas I succeeded in finally quelling the Qizilbash. Yet before this point was reached, the Safavid empire had to survive another grave internal crisis, so grave indeed that its very existence was in danger. The trouble began at the end of Shah Tahmasp I's long reign, when in October 1575 the aged ruler fell ill. Among the members of the royal family and the court, especially the chief amirs of the Qizilbash, the question of the succession was inevitably debated. This matter was not governed by any set rules, any more than was the leadership of the Ardabil order, in which, although it had been customary for the leadership to be handed down from father to son, the eldest son had not always been chosen and the rule does not seem in any case to have been followed invariably. Nor had the shah made any explicit disposition by nominating a crown prince. Although he had for some time past shown favour to Prince Sultan Haidar Mlrza by inviting him to participate in affairs of state, he had nevertheless refrained from endowing him with any specific office.