Generally considered one of the most brilliant ruling houses in Iranian history, the Safavids traced their origin from Sheikh Saﬁ al-Din Ardebili, head of the Suﬁ order, who in turn claimed descent from the Seventh Shiite Imam, Musa al-Kazim. Such a lineage lent great weight to the Safavid’s bid for power and imparted to the dynasty a semi-sacred character which made the new rulers particularly acceptable to the Iranians. The Safavids came to power under Ismail I, who was enthroned in 1501 as the Shah of Azerbaijan.
By the next year, Ismail had already extended his realm from the borders of India, on the east, to the Ottoman Empire, on the west, and had become the ruler of what is more or less present-day Iran. The political organization of these lands and a certain internal consolidation were Ismail’s indisputable achievements. He also instituted the code of beliefs of the Shiite sect as the state religion, and use both persuasion and force to convert the large majority of Muslims in Iran to the sect. His motives were perhaps based more on religious conviction than on political expediency. Be that as it may, they guaranteed the future distinction of Iran from others.
Islamic countries, and established it as a non-Arabic state a thing in which Iranians take great pride. Much of Ismail’s reign was spent in his endless wars with the Ottomans and Uzbeks, who remained the perpetual enemies of the successive Safavid rulers as well. The Safavid Empire reached its climax under Shah Abbas II, better known in Iranian historical tradition as Shah Abbas the Great. This monarch began his reign by curtailing the inﬂuence of the Qizilbash (“Red Heads”), the Turkman tribesmen who virtually brought the Safavids to power, but whose leaders started to contend for the throne during Shah Abbas’s rule.
With the help of Sir Robert Shirley, an English adventurer at the Safavid court, Shah Abbas carried out a program of military reform. He established a permanent military force under medallion from the early command of Allahverdi Khan, who was later appointed to the very lucrative post of Governor-general of Fars. In addition, Shah Abbas strengthened the bureaucracy and further centralized the administration. Having successfully settled his internal problems, he undertook several successive campaigns, ﬁrst against the Uzbeks and then against the Ottomans.
To promote commerce, he expelled the Portuguese, who had previously occupied Bahrain and the island of Hormoz of the Persian Gulf coast, in an attempt to dominate the Persian Gulf trade. He rebuilt and expanded a port that functions even today under the name of Bandar Abbas. Shah Abbas also ordered the development of trade routes, and 999 caravanserais were reportedly constructed throughout the country in his time. Many of these are still extant. During his reign, Iran regained its international position and became a center for business and trade in the Middle East. Shah Abbas was not only a great warrior and administrator, but he also fostered a renaissance of science and art. The period of his reign saw the golden age of Isfahan, the Iranian capital, one of the most beautiful cities in the world in its day.
The Shah’s energy and enthusiasm for the building were not conﬁned to Isfahan. Among his most notable achievements were the extension of the famous Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad and the construction of the celebrated stone causeway along the swampy littoral of the Caspian Sea. Under his patronage, carpet-weaving became a major industry, and ﬁne Persian rugs appeared in the homes of wealthy Europeans. In the illumination of manuscripts, bookbinding, and ceramics, the work of this period is outstanding. Concerning painting, it is the most notable in Persian history.
Suspicious of plots (and often with reason), Shah Abbas instituted the ill-advised policy of immuring infant princes in the harem, away from the inducements of intrigue and the world at large. As a result, his successors tended to be indecisive men, easily dominated by powerful religious dignitaries to whom the Safavids had accorded considerable inﬂuence. After Shah Abbas’s death, the Safavid dynasty lasted for about a century, but except for an interlude during the reign of Shah Abbas II, it was a period of decline.
The central power started to disintegrate, and ﬁnally the eastern frontiers were breached. A small body of Afghan tribesmen led by Mahmud, a former Safavid vassal in Afghanistan, won a series of easy victories before taking over most of the Safavid realm. The most outstanding achievement of the Safavids was the establishment of a strong and relatively enduring state in Iran after centuries of foreign rule, and a lengthy period of political fragmentation. Other Safavid feats include the preservation of Persian as the ofﬁcial language. The symbiosis of the Persian-speaking population with important non-Persian minorities, especially Turkish-speaking ones, and the new architectural layout of urban centers.
The importance of this dynasty is not conﬁned to the national history of Iran itself rather, it was the Safavids who led Iran back onto the stage of world history as a leading player. After a disastrous but brief to be the greatest painter of the Safavid period. Afghan occupation, the country was united under the power of Tahmasp Qoli Khan, chief of the Afsharid tribe. Having expelled the Afghans in the name of surviving Safavid members, he soon de-throne the Safavids and was himself crowned as Nader Shah. He chose Mashhad as his capital. Nader’s ultimate goal was to restore the former glory of his country.
With this in mind, he drove the Ottomans from Georgia and Armenia, forced the Russians from the Iranian coast on the Caspian Sea, and restored Iranian sovereignty over Afghanistan. He also took his army on several campaigns into India, from which he brought back magniﬁcent treasures. His Indian expedition was solved and the problem of how to sustain his empire ﬁnancially. However, his morbid obsession with treasure distorted Nader’s brilliance and courage into meanness and capricious cruelty bordering on mental derangement. Finally, he was murdered by a group of his tribesmen, assisted by some of the Qajar chiefs. Almost immediately after Nader’s murder, the country fell into anarchy Afsharid, Qajar, Afghan, and Zand Chieftains struggled for supremacy, until ﬁnally Karim Khan Zand defeated his adversaries and emerged as the victor.