Safavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ‘Abbās the Great

The latter part of the reign of ՙAbbās the Great saw the Ṣafavid Empire of Persia reach a high point of military organization and the centralization of government. The Persian empire’s territory reached a peak around this time, and culture, the arts, and philosophy flourished as well.

Summary of Event

The Ṣafavids were members of an Islamic Islam; Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty] military and religious order established in the late 1200’s by Persian mystic Ṣafī al-Dīn (1252/1254-1334). By the middle of the 1400’, the Ṣafavid order was becoming increasingly successful in warfare. Shah Ismāl I (1487-1524) led his Ṣafavid warriors to found the Ṣafavid Empire, which existed from 1501 until 1722. Ismāl also established the Shīՙite branch of the Islamic faith as the state religion, which continues to be the dominant faith of Iran. Islam;Shīՙites
[kw]Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great (1629)
[kw]ՙAbbās the Great, Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under (1629)
Government and politics;1629: Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Cultural and intellectual history;1629: Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Trade and commerce;1629: Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Art;1629: Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Organizations and institutions;1629: afavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Science and technology;1629: Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Philosophy;1629:Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Literature;1629:Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Middle East;1629:Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
Iran;1629:Ṣafavid Dynasty Flourishes Under ՙAbbās the Great[1050]
ՙAbbās I the Great
Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]

Ismāl, though, experienced a serious defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1514. After he died in 1524, Ṣafavid control of the empire weakened considerably, so foreign powers, including the Ottoman Turks, were able to make incursions on Ṣafavid territory. Shah ՙAbbās the Great, who came to the throne in 1587, reorganized the Iranian military and strengthened Ṣafavid rule. By the end of ՙAbbās’s rule—the first three decades of the seventeenth century—the Ṣafavids had reached a military, political, and cultural zenith

The shah had taxed the country heavily to pay for a professional military Military; Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty] , a reorganized standing army that made possible the rise of the Ṣafavid Empire militarily. He moved away from using traditional chieftains as commanders and staffed the army with troops that owed personal loyalty to the Crown. Foreign advisers, notably from England, helped to train the new forces. Robert Sherley Sherley, Robert and his brother Anthony Sherley, Anthony arrived from Elizabethan England in 1598, and in the early seventeenth century they helped reorganize the Ṣafavid military into three bodies of troops: the slaves, the musketeers, and the artillerymen, all of whom were paid from a central treasury and managed by a central administration. This modernized military eagerly adopted firearms and advanced military technology.

With the new military, Ṣafavid Persia was able to strike back against its neighbors, the Ottoman Turks. Between 1603 and 1607, Ṣafavid forces fought several battles against the Ottomans and won back much of the land that earlier had been lost. In 1623, the Ṣafavid army under ՙAbbās the Great invaded Iraq and retook Baghdad. The English, in return for privileges to trade in Iran, helped the Ṣafavids push the Portuguese out of Hormuz in 1622. Ottoman-Ṣafavid Wars (1602-1639)[Ottoman Safavid Wars (1602-1639)]

The military and commercial ties to the English were part of Ṣafavid Iran’s widening circle of diplomatic connections. Reflecting the religious tolerance of this period in Iranian history, a number of the contacts were with European Christianity. Pope Clement XIII sent a Carmelite mission from Rome in 1604. French chief minister Cardinal de Richelieu sent representatives to Iran in 1627, and the French missionaries, in turn, received permission to establish Capuchin missions in Baghdad and Eşfahān

The city of Eşfahān Eşfahān[Esfahan] became a center of Ṣafavid civilization in the early 1600’. Eşfahān was an ancient city with a long history, but it entered its golden age after 1598, when ՙAbbās the Great made it his capital and began a massive program of building and rebuilding. Eşfahān became renowned for its public buildings and public baths, mosques, and religious schools. At the center of the city, ՙAbbās’s architects and builders constructed the Maydan-i Shah, a huge courtyard and central square. The Ali Qapu, or the royal palace, was a building in the shape of an arch on the western side of the courtyard. Across from the Ali Qapu, on the eastern side of the courtyard, stood the mosque that ՙAbbās used for his own prayers and devotions. At the southern end was another mosque, the Masjed-i Shah, or royal mosque. To the north, a gateway led into the mile-long royal bazaar. Architecture; Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]

The royal bazaar of Eşfahān was one of the grand public places of the early modern world. At its main entrance, there was a gallery for musicians, who played at sunrise and sunset on days ՙAbbās was in the city. The bazaar itself was divided into different sections, with each section having its own gate and each devoted to a specific trade. The sections contained receiving areas for storing goods, and had shopping arcades, where buyers could view and select goods. In addition to commercial places, the royal bazaar contained public baths, mosques, and other buildings

The main avenue into Eşfahān, the Chahar Bagh, or four gardens, was a spacious route shaded by trees, and had water basins and fountains at intervals to refresh travelers. The avenue was named Chahar Bagh because gardens were located on both sides of the road; lattice walls on each side of the route enabled travelers to look into the gardens. On one side was the Garden of the Dervishes, the Mulberry Garden, and the Nightingale Garden. On the other side was the Octagonal Garden, the Throne Garden, and the Vineyard

The visual arts, as well as architecture, reached a peak during ՙAbbās’s reign. Miniature painting had been a Persian art form for centuries, but Eşfahān became the home of its last great school under ՙAbbās’s patronage. The most highly regarded miniature painter of the Eşfahān school was Rezā ՙAbbāsī Rezā ՙAbbāsī , who was supported and protected by ՙAbbās. Unlike many approaches to the visual arts in Islam, Rezā and his contemporary miniature painters emphasized the human form. Painting; Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]

Carpetweaving, an Iranian art form that dates to antiquity, reached a new level of artistry in the Ṣafavid era, which crafted the finest of all Persian carpets. The weaving of carpets also became a national industry after ՙAbbās founded carpet-making factories in Eşfahān and other cities. Factory production made it possible for wealthy individuals other than royalty to buy the carpets, which also were exported, reaching European courts. Carpets, Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]

The early seventeenth century also saw the flourishing of textiles. The Ṣafavid royal government established textile factories in a number of provinces, in which workers made silks, brocades, velvets, and embroidered work in great quantities. They also made cotton fabrics printed with blocks in a wide variety of designs. Painters such as Rezā ՙAbbāsī offered their designs for use in prints for fabrics, which connected the crafts and the visual arts. Textiles; Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]

There was also substantial Chinese influence on Iranian pottery design, especially porcelains. To produce ceramics that would appeal to the European market, ՙAbbās is said to have brought three hundred Chinese potters and their families to Iran

Eşfahān in the early seventeenth century also was known as a center of intellectual activity. The philosopher and teacher Mīr Dāmād Mīr Dāmād made his home in the city and became known as the father of the school of Eşfahān. Mīr Dāmād wrote many works of Islamic philosophy and poetry, attempting to blend the rationalist philosophy derived from Aristotle with religious ideas based on revelation. His writings are noted for their difficulty and obscurity. Most of his philosophical and religious writings were in Arabic, but the poems were in Persian. Mīr Dāmād’s major disciple, Mullā Ṣadrā Mullā Ṣadrā , was more mystical in his philosophy. The philosophical thought of the Ṣafavid period is generally considered to have reached its climax with Mullā Ṣadrā’s works, about fifty of which are extant. Mullā Ṣadrā expressed himself with greater clarity than had Mīr Dāmād, and this may have been one of the reasons the younger thinker came under attack as a heretic. Philosophy; Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]

ՙAbbās, who encouraged the work of poets, often visited coffeehouses to hear them read their poetry. He appointed poets to the office of poet laureate of his court and rewarded those whose verse he enjoyed. The shah is said to have appreciated one poet so much that he paid him the amount of the poet’s weight in gold. Poetry; Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]

ՙAbbās’s reign saw the work of one of the Islamic world’s greatest historians. Iskandar Beg Munshī Iskandar Beg Munshī is known primarily for The History of Shah ՙAbbās the Great
History of Shah ՙAbbās the Great, The (Iskandar) , a work long admired for the beauty of its prose style, and it continues to be regarded as one of the most important sources on the history of Iran under the Ṣafavid Dynasty. Iskandar worked as a secretary to the shah, giving him a special perspective on the shah’s life.


The Ṣafavid Empire marked a flourishing era in the history of Iran. The empire achieved great, lasting success not only in military technology and warfare but also in the arts, architecture, literature, poetry, philosophy, and studies of religion. Its greatest achievements were in organizing the structure and administration of government and in controlling its vast territories through centralized political control.

Many of the buildings of the time, such as those in Eşfahān, continue to stand as lasting monuments. Diplomatic and trade connections brought Iran into closer contact with Europe. Persian carpets, often considered one of the characteristic artistic products of Iranian civilization, not only reached a high level of quality but also were produced in large quantities in carpet-making factories throughout Iran.

Further Reading

  • Daniel, Elton L. The History of Iran. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Part of the Greenwood Histories of Modern Nations series, this is an excellent general history of Iran for students and general readers. The work covers Iran from antiquity to the present, with chapter 4, “Early Modern Iran,” examining the Ṣafavid era. One section in this chapter, “Zenith and Decline of Ṣafavid Iran,” discusses ՙAbbās the Great and his reign.
  • Dimand, M. S. “Ṣafavid Textiles and Rugs.” In Highlights of Persian Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen and Ehsan Yarshater. New York: Wittenborn Art Books, 1981. Surveys sixteenth and seventeenth century production, with emphasis on achievements during the reigns of ՙAbbās and others.
  • Iskandar Beg Munshī. The History of Shah ՙAbbās the Great. 2 vols. Translated by Roger M. Savory. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1978. A translation of the most important primary source on Ṣafavid life and culture at its highest point. Most modern works on Iran in the early seventeenth century draw heavily on this book.
  • Floor, Willem. Safavid Government Institutions. Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 2001. Using materials from Iranian archives and accounts from sixteenth century European travelers, Floor thoroughly analyzes the military and political institutions of the Ṣafavid Empire. The work is scholarly in its treatment and might be too advanced for general readers.
  • Jackson, Peter, and Laurence Lockhart, eds. The Timurid and Safavid Periods. Vol. 6 in The Cambridge History of Iran. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. An authoritative work on Iranian history from late medieval to early modern times. Chapter 5, “The Safavid Period,” provides a general history of the period. Other chapters cover religious and philosophical thought, carpets and textiles, architecture, the arts, and literature.
  • Morgan, David. Medieval Persia, 1040-1797. New York: Longman, 1988. A concise history, which places the Ṣafavid period in a larger historical context.
  • Savory, Roger. Iran Under the Safavids. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. One of the best sources on the Ṣafavid Dynasty, from its rise to its fall. Chapter 4 looks at the empire under ՙAbbās the Great. Other chapters consider relations with the West, the flowering of the arts, the construction and design of Eşfahān, the social and intellectual structure of Ṣafavid Iran, and intellectual life during the period.

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Ṣafavid Dynasty[Safavid Dynasty]