Sulaiman Better Known as Shah Safi II

  November 27, 2021   Read time 3 min
Sulaiman Better Known as Shah Safi II
With the death of 'Abbas II, who for all his faults was a just and magnanimous - if not a liberal - monarch, Persia came once and for all to the end of a long period of peace and prosperity. Problems began to arise even on the question of the succession, for which the late shah had made no provision.

Was the eldest son, the approximately nineteen-year-old Safi Mlrza to succeed his father in accordance with the established custom of the Safavids, even though he had not been on particularly good terms with 'Abbas? Or would the throne fall to his favourite son Hamza Mlrza, a mere seven-year-old? Despite initial support for Hamza MIrza's claim on the part of the Grand Vizier Mirza Muhammad Mahdi, the leading figures of the realm, assembled where 'Abbas had died, decided in favour of the older prince's succession, merely on the basis of representations made to them by his personal tutor and confidant, the eunuch Mirza Aqa Mubarak. Subsequently he ascended the throne on i November 1666 with the title Safi II.

The new shah, the son of a Circassian slave called Naklhat Khanum, had been raised, according to what by now had become the firmly established custom, in the wives' quarters, that is in the sole company of the ladies of the harem and eunuchs, without the slightest preparation for the throne. He lacked not only experience and observation of the practice of government but also.those excellent human qualities his father had possessed, although he shared with the latter such vices as excessive drinking, cruelty, principally when under the influence of alcohol, and a tendency towards immoderate sexual indulgence. To a fondness for pomp and circumstance, evinced also by his father, came in addition an inordinate extravagance, at least in the early part of his reign. Later on, admittedly, he was to swing to the opposite extreme of avarice and covetousness, two qualities that remained with him until the end of his days.

Engelbert Kaempfer, a German doctor, who lived in Isfahan in the years 1683-4, left behind an excellent account of the Safavid capital and of the administration of the court and country, including also a character sketch of the shah. Alongside his more familiar faults and vices are listed irascibility, indolence and superstition, but a few good qualities also find mention: occasional acts of justice and clemency, piety, an unusual love of peace and winning social manners. Kaempfer testifies not only to the shah's kindheartedness but also to his popularity with his subjects.

The very beginnings of Safi IPs rule in Iran were anything but encouraging. The news from Mazandaran of his father's death and his own appointment to the succession had found him, just like his grandfather before him, in a state of total unpreparedness. Never before having set foot outside the harem, he was seized with panic and responded to the invitation to appear in the throne room for his coronation only after a considerable show of reluctance, because he assumed that he was being lured there simply to be murdered or blinded. Shortly after he came to the throne, prices soared in the capital and there were outbreaks of famine and disease in the country.

The province of Shirvan suffered a violent earthquake and in the following year the Caspian provinces had to endure the predatory raids of Stenka Razin's Cossacks, whom the Persian forces were unable to subdue. Since all was not well with the ruler's health either, presumably because of the dissolute life he led, one of the physicians who were striving in vain to cure him hit on the idea that all these misfortunes - not only the shah's sickliness but all the untoward occurrences in the land — must stem from a miscalculation of the horoscope determining the date of his accession to the throne.

It did not take long to find a court astrologer who confirmed this assumption, and the leading figures of the realm together with the shah duly concluded that the remedy to the situation lay in repeating the ceremony of accession.1 A new horoscope indicated 20 March 1668, at nine o'clock in the morning, as the most propitious time. The second coronation, which was again observed in every ceremonial detail, was supposed to betoken a completely fresh start. Thus, on this occasion, the shah ascended the throne under a new name also, that of Shah Sulaiman, by which he is known in history.