Ottoman-Safavid Wars Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

For nearly four decades, the two most powerful states in the Islamic world, the Ottomans and the Ṣafavids, battled for control of Iraq and the Caucasus region. The wars ended with a division of the Caucasus, the Ottoman annexation of Iraq, and a permanent boundary treaty. Although Islamic doctrines continued to divide the Sunni Ottomans and Shia Ṣafavids, the two empires remained relatively at peace after 1639.

Summary of Event

From the establishment of Ṣafavid Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty] domination over Iran in 1514, antagonism marked relations between the new shahs of Persia and their western rival, the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman sultans presented themselves as the champions of Sunni Islam, Islam;Sunnis warriors against the infidels of Europe and Russia. The Ṣafavid shahs proclaimed themselves the regents for the Hidden Imam of the Shia (Shīՙite) Muslims. Islam;Shīՙites [kw]Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars (1602-1639) [kw]Wars, Ottoman-Ṣ;afavid (1602-1639) [kw]Ṣ;afavid Wars, Ottoman- (1602-1639) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1602-1639: Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars[0260] Expansion and land acquisition;1602-1639: Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars[0260] Ottoman Empire;1602-1639: Ottoman-Ṣ;afavid Wars[0260] Iran;1602-1639: Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars[0260] Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars (1602-1639)[Ottoman Safavid Wars (1602-1639)]

Locale Iran, Iraq, Turkey, the Caucasus Middle East;1602-1639: Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars[0260]

These two states had already fought several vicious wars during the sixteenth century. In the early seventeenth century, however, the Ottoman-Ṣafavid wars were long, more destructive, and intermixed with domestic mutinies, peasant revolts, and urban rioting. The 1639 Treaty of Kasr-i Shirin Kasr-i Shirin, Treaty of (1639)[Kasri Shirin, Treaty of (1639)] brought an end to these wars and a balance of power between the two states that endured through the rest of the century.

In 1588, Shah ՙ;Abbās the Great ՙAbbās I the Great came to power in Iran, confronting aggressive enemies at every point of the compass. These threats compelled ՙAbbās to accept a humiliating peace with the Ottomans that cost dearly in territory and tribute. Ottoman troops took over most of northern Iran, including the historical capital of Tabriz. However, ՙAbbās’s strategic instincts and his steely patience eventually paid off. By 1602, the shah had pacified his northern and eastern borders. Spain and other European states furnished him modern firearms. Patiently enacted political and military reforms augmented Persia’s traditional feudal armies (called qizilbash) and tribal horse levies with professional salaried soldiers.

Meanwhile, the Ottomans, embroiled in a war with Austria, lacked the strength and unity they enjoyed only a decade before. Simultaneously, civil unrest erupted throughout Ottoman Anatolia. Thousands of peasants, demobilized soldiers, and rural tribesmen joined free-booting private armies called Jelālī, seeking loot and protesting government financial burdens. The balance of power in the Middle East was shifting.

Starting in 1602, three years of tentative raids into Ottoman-occupied Iran began the Ottoman-Ṣafavid wars. The shah waited until September, 1605, to unleash his full army on his antagonists. Persian victory in a battle at Lake Urmiya shattered Ottoman forces in Iran. The liberation of Tabriz and the other cities of northern Iran followed rapidly. These successes put the shah in a solid position to launch an offensive into Ottoman Anatolia. Many of the Turkish and Kurdish tribes in the areas of Van, Kars, Diyarbakr, and Erzirum raised the Ṣafavid standard against the beleaguered Ottoman sultan. ՙAbbās was cautious, however, as he confined himself to raiding expeditions and sending his political agents, Shia Islamic missionaries, and other provocateurs to keep the “pot boiling.” He knew the same rebels who welcomed him as a liberator in the morning might turn against him before nightfall. Moreover, in 1606, the Ottomans had made peace with Austria and Poland, which meant that Ottoman reinforcements would march Anatolian tribes east against the Jelālī and, then, perhaps, against Iran.

Success rewarded the shah’s patience. Repressing the Jelālī rebels weakened the Ottomans. When the Ottoman invasion of Iran finally came in 1610, the expedition proved cumbersome and poorly organized. After winning some minor skirmishes, the Ottomans invited the Ṣafavids to negotiate. Not eager to face a real invasion, the shah accepted the offer. The 1612 treaty basically restated an older agreement, the 1555 Treaty of Amasya. Under its terms, the Ottomans restored northern Persia, Azerbaijan, and parts of the Caucasus to ՙAbbās in exchange for peace on the borders of eastern Anatolia. As a bow toward Islamic solidarity, the two empires promised to coordinate operations against the growing threat from Russia to the north. In reality, the treaty was only a truce.

There was little peace in the peace of 1612. Border incidents escalated regularly until the Ottomans decided to launch a punitive expedition in late 1617. Before much could be accomplished against the Ṣafavids, a succession crisis exploded in Istanbul, the Ottoman capital. The listless Ottoman march against Tabriz failed against ՙAbbās’s defenders. The 1612 treaty, therefore, was renewed virtually unchanged in September of 1618.

In the next several years, instability in the Ottoman Empire became volcanic. The murder of the reformist sultan Osman II Osman II in 1622 brought a lunatic, Mustafa I Mustafa I , to the throne. The next year, another violent faction installed Sultan Murad IV Murad IV , though insurgencies continued to rock Ottoman lands, until even the Shia Muslims of southern and central Iraq rose up. For Shah ՙAbbās, self-proclaimed protector and first missionary of Shia Islam, the time seemed a godsend.

In late 1623, the Persians swept into Iraq. Baghdad fell in January, 1624, and only Basra and Mosul withstood the invasion. To dramatize that this war was a sectarian jihad, ՙAbbās massacred thousands of Sunni Muslims in Baghdad. He also launched a flotilla, seizing the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Rebels in eastern Anatolia made movement of troops, supplies, and weaponry too insecure for the Ottomans to march into Iraq. Nonetheless, the loss of Baghdad convinced the Ottoman ruling elites that the empire faced mortal danger. Setting quarrels and ambitions aside, they rallied to the new young sultan.

Swordsman, wrestler, and weightlifter, the charismatic young Murad IV inspired devotion and terror in his subordinates. His first military efforts successfully restored Ottoman order throughout much of the eastern region of Anatolia, ending the Ṣafavid threat to his flank. However, Murad’s march on Baghdad in the fall of 1630 lacked the power to take the city. Russian intrigues in the Crimea, revolts in the Arab provinces of the empire, a lack of funds, and threats of mutiny by garrisons around Istanbul hampered the war effort. Still, pacifying Anatolia laid the critical groundwork for any future conquest of Iraq.

In 1629, ՙAbbās the Great died, passing the throne to his grandson, Ṣafī Ṣafī I . A hedonistic adolescent, swayed by factions and indulgences, Shah Ṣafī tended to favor the bureaucrats in the state who raised money for him over the soldiers who seemed only to spend it. At the same time, the Persian position in Iraq remained tenuous. Ṣafavid occupation forces were small, Sunni resistance remained vigorous, and the northern routes into Iran remained vulnerable should the Ottomans again attempt Tabriz. Meanwhile, Murad strengthened his power in Istanbul, purging, impoverishing, or executing those who crossed him. The balance of forces began to tip away from the Persian side.

In the summer of 1634, Murad IV invaded northern Iran, ending his march with the capture of Tabriz that September. However, lacking enough forces to keep the long, tortuous supply lines open between the empire and Tabriz, the sultan had to abandon his prize. Ṣafī learned nothing from the experience. The Persians seemed reassured because the Ottomans did not return over the next years, but their complacency was misplaced. Murad first had affairs to settle in the Crimea and then on the Danube frontiers, but his resolve to reclaim Baghdad was undimmed.

Late in 1638, Murad IV, wearing the uniform of a common Janissary, led his troops to the plains of Baghdad. The Persians put up a stiff resistance. The battle lasted forty days, with Murad taking part in combat, gunnery, and even the dirty work of sapping the walls. At the same time, other Ottoman forces rode through northern Iraq, capturing other towns and often massacring Shia Muslims. Baghdad fell in late December, 1638, and the sultan began preparations for another campaign in the east.

With the arrival of spring, though, Ṣafavid and Ottoman diplomats began work on a comprehensive peace treaty that would secure the common frontiers of the two hostile empires. The 1639 Treaty of Kasr-i Shirin fixed the boundaries along commonly accepted lines and demilitarized some areas. Shah Ṣafī agreed to cease subversive activities along the border, punish raiders, and recognize Ottoman power in Iraq and the upper gulf area. In turn, the dispirited Murad recognized Azerbaijan as Persian territory. Religious concerns also were met. Shia Muslims in the empire, so long as they remained peaceful Ottoman subjects, were free to practice Shia Islam. The peace signed at Kasr-i Shirin lasted until the Ṣafavid Dynasty collapsed in the early 1700’.


Ottoman-Ṣafavid wars set the final contest between the two empires, violent rivals since the 1510’. Under ՙAbbās the Great, Persia occupied Iraq, winning its greatest territorial extent in the modern era. Eventually, the Ottomans recovered Iraq, and the final treaty fixed the boundaries between Iran and the Arab-Turkish states. The 1639 treaty set a military and also religious balance of power in the Middle East ensuring that Shia Islam would endure in Iran and that Shia Muslims in Iraq would be tolerated under Sunni Ottoman rule. The Shia of modern Iraq owe their survival to this peace.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eskandar Beg Monshi. The History of Shah ՙAbbās the Great. 2 vols. Translated by Roger M. Savory. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1980. A concise, comprehensive history by the chief secretary of ՙAbbās’s court and the most important source of Ṣafavid history in general. Ends with a discussion of ՙAbbās’s death and funeral.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923. New York: Longman, 1997. A sweeping historical overview of Ottoman history from the late thirteenth century to the early twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Melville, Charles, ed. Ṣafavid Persia: The History and Politics of an Islamic Society. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Contains fifteen essays that examine historiography, religious policies, and the silk industry under the Ṣafavids.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphey, Rhoads. The Functioning of the Ottoman Army Under Murad IV. 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Chicago, 1979. This work focuses on a pivotal military era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999. Murphey provides excellent coverage of Ottoman warfare and an invaluable bibliography for detailed research.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

ՙAbbās the Great; Jahāngīr; Kösem Sultan; Murad IV; Mustafa I; Shah Jahan. Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars (1602-1639)[Ottoman Safavid Wars (1602-1639)]

Categories: History