Shah Abbas II and His Proactive Policies

  October 24, 2021   Read time 3 min
Shah Abbas II and His Proactive Policies
The shah did not hurry to appoint his successor. The fact that ultimately Mirza Muhammad Mahdi, scion of a highly respected family of theologians, who had been sadr-i mamalik for over ten years, was made grand vizier, may have been a concession to the Shia jurists.

Trouble had been fermenting in their ranks for a long time, not only on account of the libertarianism at court (the stricter discipline introduced after Saf I's death, with prohibition of wine and strict adherence to the other religious prescripts, had long since been allowed to go by the board), but also because of the magnanimity of the ruler towards Christians, and Christians only recently converted to Islam, who were able to attain to high office, indeed to the highest offices in the land.

In contrast to his predecessor, 'Abbas II took an active interest in the business of government, although he too had been raised in the seclusion of the harem and had received no preparation whatsoever for the throne. Exactly when he began to play an active role is impossible to determine, but it appears to have been at quite an early age, possibly in the period immediately following the assassination of Saru Taqi, when he was scarcely more than fifteen years old. A distinctive feature of his reign was the consolidation of his power, which he achieved by pursuing policies of centralisation such as increasing the number of provinces belonging to the royal estates. In this respect he adhered firmly to the policy of Sarii TaqI who, under Shah SafI, had already incorporated the province of Lar into the crown lands and who, only a year before his death, had also annexed the land of the Bakhtiyar, in consequence of a revolt against the local governor KhalU Khan. Subsequently other territories such as Hamadan (1654), Ardabil (1656—7) and Kirman (1658) were also incorporated in the royal estates. The increased revenues and the greater power of the monarch resulting from these measures did not necessarily make for an improvement in the lot of the population.

In certain instances they even proved detrimental, because the administrators of the crown lands, as the immediate subordinates of the shah, were frequently in a position to disregard constraints to which the former governors had been subject. On the other hand, it was not unknown for the shah to intervene against his provincial officials on receiving complaints from peasants or other of his subjects that they had been dealt with too harshly. This explains why European observers are able to contrast the well-being of the rural population in Persia with the very much worse plight of the peasantry in the West. The relatively favourable living conditions, also of course attributable to the fact that Persia was spared any serious involvement in major wars during this period, in turn help to explain why, for most of the time, the country remained peaceful internally and the roads were safe. When disorders and rebellions did develop they were confined, like the uprising of the Bakhtiyars mentioned above, to border areas or vassal territories.

This was the case with various dominions in Georgia and Daghistan which were either under Persian tutelage or loosely subject to the shah. Reference has already been made to Rustam Khan, who ruled as governor or viceroy (vail) in Tiflis, and to conflicts between him and Theimuraz. These conflicts continued under 'Abbas II, in the first instance shortly after his accession, then again in 1648. Even though Theimuraz was eventually excluded from power and sent to Astarabad, fresh disturbances occurred, despite — or even because of — an attempt to restore peace by means of a special policy of colonisation and construction of fortresses, directed from Isfahan. Hostilities bordering on civil war were not brought to a conclusion until the beginning of the 1070s/1660s under a new viceroy called Shahnavaz.

Theimuraz himself, albeit in vain, had sought support from the government of the Tsar. His efforts were certainly not misplaced, for Cossacks had advanced as far as the river Terek around the year 1600. When, however, they proceeded to build fortifications commanding the approach routes to eastern Georgia, Persian troops were sent into action who destroyed their strongholds and put the garrisons to flight. To guard against renewed incursions by the Russians, or those of the Ottomans, any rebellions on the part of the princes of Daghistan were quelled.