Shah Safi's Death and a New Wave of Nationwide Crisis

  September 25, 2021   Read time 4 min
Shah Safi's Death and a New Wave of Nationwide Crisis
When Shah Safi died unexpectedly on 12 Safar 1052/12 May 16422 at the early age of thirty-one, he left behind him a country whose territory was quite considerably smaller than it had been at his succession, but which still embraced all the heartlands of Persia.

There was more serious unrest on Iran's north-east frontier. A reconciliation was effected with the neighbouring Tiirkmens after they had invaded from Khiva (Khwarazm), when its Yadgarid ruler Isfandiyar Khan (1032-52/1623-42) apologised for the attack and in 1039/1630 handed over to the shah his brother Abu'l-Ghazi, on whose shoulders he put the blame. Abu'l-Ghazi, later Isfandiyar's successor and a celebrated historian, spent the next ten years at the shah's court. In contrast, the Uzbeks of Transoxiana, now under the rule of the Janid dynasty, kept the Persians fully occupied.

The most important figures here were Imam- Qull Khan, the prince of Bukhara (1020—5 II 1611-41), and his brother Nadr Muhammad Khan, who was initially his governor in Balkh and was appointed by him as his successor in 1051/1641 when he himself had gone blind. Imam Qull Khan set off on a pilgrimage to Mecca and only just managed to escape into Persian territory from pursuers sent after him on the orders of his brother, who at the last moment had resolved to prevent his leaving. He was received there by the shah with the highest honours due to an eminent guest, and finally died in Arabian territory. Strangely enough, Nadr Muhammad Khan in turn at a later date (105 6/1646) had to seek refuge in Persia, and he too was received with great ceremony.

Nevertheless, it would be quite wrong, on the evidence of the reception accorded by Safavid rulers to Uzbek princes in difficulties, to conclude that good neighbourly relations existed between the two powers. The opposite was, in fact, the case. As they had from the very beginning of Safavid rule, Uzbek incursions and plundering raids into Persia continued unabated during the nth/17th century, and in the reign of Shah SafI they reached a climax, with no fewer than eleven Uzbek campaigns against Persia. Even though most of these were no more than forays, we find that such large forces were involved — numbers amounting to 20,000 or 30,000 Uzbek warriors are mentioned — that the possibility that the Uzbeks intended a conquest of Khurasan cannot simply be dismissed. Nevertheless, no significant results in this direction were achieved.

The tense relations between Shah SafI and the Indian Mughals led, among other reasons, in 1636 to the severance of a strange IndoPersian connection. 'Abd-Allah Qutb Shah, the lord of the principality of Golkonda in the Deccan (1020-1083/1626-72), and the descendant of a Shi' Qara Quyunlu refugee, had attached himself for religious reasons to Shah 'Abbas I and thereafter had caused the name of the Persian shah to be incorporated in the official prayers (khutba) and adopted on the coinage. He now abandoned his association with Persia and placed himself under the Great Mughal Shah Jahan after the latter's victory over his neighbour to the west, the prince of Bljapur.

When Shah Safi died unexpectedly on 12 Safar 1052/12 May 16422 at the early age of thirty-one, he left behind him a country whose territory was quite considerably smaller than it had been at his succession, but which still embraced all the heartlands of Persia. From the point of view of the Iranicisation of the Safavid empire, the loss of the Mesopotamian territories — and these were by far the most extensive — was in any case of no very great importance. More significant was the fact that at the time of his death the country was not threatened by any serious external dangers, and especially that it was no longer at risk from the Ottoman empire. This fairly positive state of affairs, however, could hardly be credited to Shah SafI, but rather to various dignitaries in his empire distinguished by special competence, particularly the Grand Vizier Sam Taqi. In Safl's character we see clearly manifested some of the weak points in the structure of the Safavid empire which were to play a fateful role in its decline and final demise. These were especially the lack of preparation of the crown prince for the position of ruler and the unlimited power of a despotic monarch totally orientated on himself, and — since the time of Shah 'Abbas I — further strengthened by the exclusion of the Qizilbash amirs and the increasing centralisation of the state. A figure possessing the personal qualities of a Shah 'Abbas could exploit such a position of omnipotence to the best advantage of Iran and its people. A man as weak as SafI in mind and character — a man who was also physically weak — was not equal to the tasks involved in the office.