Shah Abbas II and Anti-Corruption Decisions

  November 27, 2021   Read time 4 min
Shah Abbas II and Anti-Corruption Decisions
At the age of thirty-three, in the autumn of 1077/1666, probably during the night of 26 Rabi' II/25-6 October,2 'Abbas passed away in Khusrauabad, a small mountain castle between Damghan and Gurgan. His body was brought to Qum, where he was buried next to his father Safi.

A dominant feature of the reign of 'Abbas II is the indefatigable concern he personally showed for the affairs of state. This did not change even when, in 1073/ at the end of 1662, he displayed the first symptoms of what was to prove a long and painful illness, although his reactions to irregularities and maladministration on the part of individual dignitaries and officials became, from this point onwards, more severe and violent than in previous years. Executions for reasons of this nature were no longer a rarity. When a deterioration in the condition of the shah, who according to the descriptions of European reporters was probably suffering from syphilis, forced him to recuperate in Mazandaran, he still retained sufficient energy to take charge of state business even from there.

At the age of thirty-three, in the autumn of 1077/1666, probably during the night of 26 Rabi' II/25-6 October,2 'Abbas passed away in Khusrauabad, a small mountain castle between Damghan and Gurgan. His body was brought to Qum, where he was buried next to his father Safi. Not without reason is his name often mentioned in the same breath as those of Isma'Il I and 'Abbas I as the three outstanding ruling figures of the Safavids. Because he might otherwise have been just the man to prevent the downfall of the Safavid kingdom, there is no lack of expressions of regret at his untimely end, either in the primary sources, of which the accounts of Western visitors to Persia have the first if not the sole claim to credibility, or in the writings of historians. The validity of such speculation can best be judged by a consideration of his personality.

Surviving portraits show the shah to have been a finely proportioned young man of medium height with a longish face, sharply defined features and a wide, sweeping moustache of the kind fashionable at the time. He was renowned for his skill in and enthusiasm for sporting activities such as riding and archery, as well as for his passionate interest in hunting. Abbas II adhered to the traditional conception of the divine kingship and sacred status of the Safavids and did not hesitate to dispute the views of those theologians who argued that until the return of the departed Imam, i.e. the Mahdl, temporal power belonged by right not to the Safavid shah but to the mujtahid of the time. On the other hand, he was concerned to foster good relations with the Shl'I jurists, which explains in part why he chose his sisters' husbands from amongst their number. He did so also, of course, with the ulterior motive of precluding any issue eligible for succession to the throne, an eventuality he would have had to face had his brothers-in-law been members of the ruling dynasty or eminent military figures in the realm.

The desire to consolidate his own power, for decades the overriding concern of the Safavid monarchs, prompted 'Abbas II to have his nephews killed and his four brothers blinded. Nor was he content to follow the practice hitherto customary at the court, of rendering the cornea opaque, but ordered the actual removal of their eyeballs. This fear of potential rivals did not, however, extend to his own two sons, in spite of certain misgivings concerning them in court circles. A propensity to cruelty can also be discerned in certain directives issued when 'Abbas was in an inebriated condition. The prohibition imposed at the time of his accession by the Grand Vizier Saru Taqi and representatives of the religious classes had been shortlived, and excessive consumption of alcohol, just as in the days of his father, had again become the order of the day at court. According to one chronicle,2 probably the only activity the young shah preferred to a bout of heavy drinking was watching a game of polo. Another passion he indulged was his love of the fair sex, and it would seem that his early death was not unconnected with his lack of restraint in this regard.

Although such characteristics tarnish the image of the ruler somewhat, he was by no means lacking in conspicuously good qualities which earned the praise of native and foreign observers alike. Foremost amongst these was a pronounced love of justice. He would vene quite ruthlessly whenever corruption or despotism, irregularities or malpractices came to his notice, irrespective of whether it was a question of the normal administration of justice or the surveillance of political and administrative bodies, both civil and military. He even went to the length of personally devoting several days a week to the administration of justice, amongst other things initiating measures to promote public safety and above all to suppress banditry and highway robbery. The energy and drive displayed by 'Abbas in this and other areas of public life led not only to the eradication of particular abuses which had crept in since the death of his great-grandfather, but also to an overall reform of Safavid politics as such.