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Shah Ismail

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Title: Shah Ismail  
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Shah Ismail

"Khatai" redirects here. For the village in Iran, see Khatai, Iran.
Ismail I
Shahanshah of Persia
Shah Ismail I.
Reign 1501–1524
Coronation 1501
Born July 17, 1487
Birthplace Ardabil
Died May 23, 1524
Place of death Tabriz
Buried Ardabil
Successor Tahmasp I
Consort daughter of Shirvanshah II Khalilullah[1][2][3][4]
Royal House Safavid dynasty
Father Haydar Safavi
Mother Halima Begum a.k.a. Martha, daughter of Uzun Hasan

Ismail I (July 17, 1487 – May 23, 1524), known in Persian as Shāh Ismāʿil, (Azerbaijani: Şah İsmayıl Səfəvi, شاه اسماعیل, Persian: شاه اسماعیل‎; full name: Abū l-Muzaffar bin Haydar as-Safavī), was Shah of Iran (1501)[5][6] and the founder of the Safavid dynasty which survived until 1736. Isma'il started his campaign in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1500 as the leader of the Safaviyya, a Twelver Shia militant religious order, and unified all of Iran by 1509.[7] Born in Ardabil in Northwestern Iran, he reigned as Shah Ismail I of Iran from 1501 to 1524.

The dynasty founded by Ismail I would rule for two centuries, it was one of the greatest Persian empires after the Muslim conquest of Persia[8][9][10][11] it also reasserted the Iranian identity in Greater Iran,[12] the legacy of the Safavid Empire was also the revival of Persia as an economic stronghold between East and West, the establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy, their architectural innovations and their patronage for fine arts.

Ismail played a key role in the rise of Twelver Islam; he converted Iran from Sunni to Shi'a Islam, importing religious authorities from the Levant.[13] In Alevism, Shah Ismail remains revered as a spiritual guide.

Ismail was also a prolific poet who, under the pen name Khatā'ī (which means "sinner" in Arabic) contributed greatly to the literary development of the Azerbaijani language,[14] he also contributed to Persian literature, though only a few specimens of his Persian verse have survived.[15]


Ismail was born to Martha and Shaykh Haydar on July 17, 1487 in Ardabil. His father, Haydar, was the sheikh of the Safaviyya Sufi order and a direct descendant of its Kurdish[16][17][18] founder, Safi-ad-din Ardabili (1252–1334). Ismail was the last in line of hereditary Grand Masters of the Safaviyah Sufi order, prior to his ascent to a ruling dynasty. His mother Martha, better known as Halima Begum, was the daughter of Uzun Hasan by his Pontic Greek wife Theodora Megale Komnene, better known as Despina Khatun.[19] Despina Khatun was the daughter of Emperor John IV of Trebizond. (She had married Uzun Hassan in a deal to protect Trebizond from the Ottomans.[20]) Ismail grew up bilingual, speaking Persian and Azeri.[21][22]

In 700/1301, Safi al-Din assumed the leadership of the Zahediyeh, a significant Sufi order in Gilan, from his spiritual master and father-in-law Zahed Gilani. Due to the great spiritual charisma of Safi al-Din, the order was later known as the Safaviyya. Like his father and grandfather Ismail headed the Safaviyya sufi order. An invented genealogy claimed that Sheikh Safi (the founder of the order and Ismael's ancestor) was a lineal descendant of Ali. Ismail also proclaimed himself the Mahdi (The Guided One) and a reincarnation of Ali.[23]


In 1488, the father of Ismail was killed in a battle against the forces of the Shirvanshah king Farrukh Yassar and the Aq Qoyunlu, in 1494 the Aq Qoyunlu Turks captured Ardabil, killing Ali Mirza Safavi (the eldest son of Haydar), and forcing the 7 year old Ismail to go into hiding in Gilan, where he received education under the guidance of renowned scholars.

When Ismail reached the age of 12, he came out of hiding and returned to Iranian Azerbaijan along with his followers. Ismail's advent to power was due to Turkoman tribes of Anatolia and Azerbaijan, who formed the most important part of the Qizilbash movement.[24]

Campaigns in Iran

In the summer of 1500, about 7000 Qizilbash forces, consisted of Ustaclu, Shamlu, Rumlu, Tekelu, Zhulkadir, Afshar, Qajar and Varsak tribes, responded to the invitation of Ismail in Erzincan.[25] Qizilbash forces passed over the Kura River in November 1500, and marched towards the Shirvanshah's state. They defeated the forces under the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar near Cabanı (present-day Shamakhi Rayon, Azerbaijan), and conquered Baku.[26] In July 1501, Ismail was enthroned as Shah of Azerbaijan,[27] choosing Tabriz, Azerbaijan, as his capital. When the Safavids came to power in 1501, Shah Ismail was 14 years old; by 1510 he had conquered whole Iran.[28] After defeating the Aq Qoyunlu in 1502, he took the title of Shah of Iran.[6]

When Ismail captured Iraq he began destroying Sunni sites in Baghdad including tombs of Abbasid Caliphs, tombs of Sunni Imam Abū Ḥanīfah and Abdul Qadir Gilani.[29]

In 1510, Ismail I moved against the Uzbeks. In battle near the city of Merv, some 17,000 Qizilbash warriors ambushed and defeated a superior Uzbek force numbering 28,000. The Uzbek ruler, Muhammad Shaybani, was caught and killed trying to escape the battle and the shah had his skull made into a jeweled drinking goblet.

War against the Ottomans and death

In 1514, Selim I, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, attacked Ismail's kingdom. Selim and Ismail had been exchanging a series of belligerent letters prior to the attack.

Selim I defeated Ismail at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514.[30] Ismail's army was more mobile and their soldiers were better prepared but the Ottomans prevailed due in large part to their efficient modern army, and possession of artillery, black powder and muskets. Ismail was wounded and almost captured in battle. Selim I entered the Iranian capital of Tabriz in triumph on September 5,[31] but did not linger. A mutiny among his troops fearing a counterattack and entrapment by the fresh Safavid forces called in from the interior, forced the triumphant Ottomans to withdraw prematurely. This allowed Ismail to recover quickly. Among the booties from Tabriz was Ismail's favorite wife, for whose release the Sultan demanded huge concessions, which were refused. Despite his defeat at the Battle of Chaldiran, Ismail quickly recovered most of his kingdom, from east of the Lake Van to the shores of the Indian Ocean.

The venetian ambassador Caterino Zeno describes the events as follows:


He also adds that:


After the Battle of Chaldiran, Ismail lost his supernatural air and the aura of invincibility, gradually falling into heavy drinking of alcohol.[32] Ismail retired to his palace and withdrew from active participation in the affairs of the state, leaving these to his minister, Mirza Shah-Hussayn.[33] He died on 23 May 1524 at the relatively early age of thirty-six. To consolidate his position and get the Iranians to fight the Ottomans, Ismail then made the Twelver shia the official religion of Iran.

The consequences of the defeat at Chaldiran were also psychological for Ismail: the defeat destroyed Ismail's belief in his invincibility, based on his claimed divine status.[34] His relationships with his Qizilbash followers were also fundamentally altered. The tribal rivalries between the Qizilbash, which temporarily ceased before the defeat at Chaldiran, resurfaced in intense form immediately after the death of Ismail, and led to ten years of civil war (930-40/1524-33) until Shah Tahmasp regained control of the affairs of the state. The Safavids later lost Balkh and Kandahar to the Mughals, and Herat to the Uzbeks.[35]

Ismail died on May 23, 1524 and was buried in Ardabil, he was succeeded by his son Tahmasp I.

Contacts with Europe

After his defeat by the Ottomans, Ismail tried to make an alliance with European powers, with the aim of attacking the Ottomans on two fronts. In 1516, a Maronite monk named Petrus de Monte Libano arrived in Persia as an ambassador from Louis II of Hungary, and about the same time Ismail also received an envoy from Charles V, king of Spain. Ismail’s replies to those two monarchs are not extant, but in 1523 he sent a letter in Latin to Charles. In this letter Ismail complained that the Christian powers, instead of combining to fight the Turks, were squabbling among themselves; he urged Charles to mobilize his forces and attack the Turks. Charles’s reply, dated February 1529, was still addressed to Ismail, though Ismail had been dead for five years and he had been succeeded by his son Shah Tahmasp I. The slowness of communications between Asia and Europe militated against the execution of any concerted and coordinated action against the Ottomans by Persia and European powers. Shortly before Ismail’s death in 1524, a Portuguese ambassador named Balthasar Pessoa, headed an important Portuguese mission to the Safavid court at Tabriz.

Ismail's poetry

Ismail is also known for his poetry using the pen-name Khatā'ī (Arabic: خطائی‎ "Sinner").[36] According to Encyclopædia Iranica, "Ismail was a skillful poet who used prevalent themes and images in lyric and didactic-religious poetry with ease and some degree of originality". He was also deeply influenced by the Persian literary tradition of Iran, particularly by the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, which probably explains the fact that he named all of his sons after Shahnameh-characters. Dickson and Welch suggest that Ismail's "Shāhnāmaye Shāhī" was intended as a present to the young Tahmasp.[37] After defeating Muhammad Shaybani's Uzbeks, Ismail asked Hatefi, a famous poet from Jam (Khorasan), to write a Shahnameh-like epic about his victories and his newly established dynasty. Although the epic was left unfinished, it was an example of mathnawis in the heroic style of the Shahnameh written later on for the Safavid kings.[38]

He wrote in the Azerbaijani language,[39] and in the Persian language. He is considered an important figure in the literary history of Azerbaijani language and has left approximately 1400 verses in this language, which he chose to use for political reasons.[39] Approximately 50 verses of his Persian poetry have also survived.

Most of the poems are concerned with love — particularly of the mystical Sufi kind — though there are also poems propagating Shi'i doctrine and Safavi politics. His other serious works include the Nasihatnāme, a book of advice, and the unfinished Dahnāme, a book which extols the virtues of love.

As Ismail believed in his own divinity and in his descent from Ali, in his poems he tended to strongly emphasize these claims.

Along with the poet Imadaddin Nasimi, Khatā'ī is considered to be among the first proponents of using a simpler Azeri language in verse that would thereby appeal to a broader audience. His work is most popular in Azerbaijan, as well as among the Bektashis of Turkey. There is a large body of Alevi and Bektashi poetry that has been attributed to him. The major impact of his religious propaganda, in the long run, was the conversion of Persia from Sunni to Shia Islam.[40]

The following anecdote demonstrates the status of vernacular Turkish and Persian in the Ottoman Empire and in the incipient Safavid state. Khatā'ī sent a poem in Turkish to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I before going to war in 1514. In a reply the Ottoman Sultan answered in Persian to indicate his contempt.

One of the examples of his poetry are:[41]

My name is Shāh Ismā'īl. I am God's mystery. I am the leader of all these ghāzīs.

My mother is Fātima, my father is 'Ali; and eke I am the Pīr of the Twelve Imāms.
I have recovered my father's blood from Yazīd. Be sure that I am of Haydarian essence.
I am the living Khidr and Jesus, son of Mary. I am the Alexander of (my) contemporaries.
Look you, Yazīd, polytheist and the adept of the Accursed one, I am free from the Ka'ba of hypocrites.
In me is Prophethood (and) the mystery of Holiness. I follow the path of Muhammad Mustafā.
I have conquered the world at the point of (my) sword. I am the Qanbar of Murtadā 'Ali.
My sire is Safī, my father Haydar. Truly I am the Ja'far of the audacious.
I am a Husaynid and have curses for Yazīd. I am Khatā'ī, a servant of the Shāh's.

Emergence of a clerical aristocracy

An important feature of the Safavid society was the alliance that emerged between the ulama (the religious class) and the merchant community. The latter included merchants trading in the bazaars, the trade and artisan guilds (asnaf) and members of the quasi-religious organizations run by dervishes (futuvva). Because of the relative insecurity of property ownership in Persia, many private landowners secured their lands by donating them to the clergy as so called vaqf. They would thus retain the official ownership and secure their land from being confiscated by royal commissioners or local governors, as long as a percentage of the revenues from the land went to the ulama. Increasingly, members of the religious class, particularly the mujtahids and the seyyeds, gained full ownership of these lands, and, according to contemporary historian Iskandar Munshi, Persia started to witness the emergence of a new and significant group of landowners.[42]

Appearance and skills

An Italian traveller describes Ismail as follows:



Ismail's greatest legacy was establishing an enduring empire which lasted over 200 years. Even after the fall of Safavids in 1736, their cultural and political influence endured through the era of Afsharid, Zand, Qajar, and Pahlavi dynasties into the modern Islamic Republic of Iran, where Shi’a Islam is still the official religion as it was during the Safavids.


In the name of Ismail I mentioned:

  • Metro, District and Facility[43] in Azerbaijan.
  • The street in Ganja and Prospect in Baku.
  • In 1993, in Baku was erected a monument to Ismail I.
  • The sculpture was erected in Khachmaz (city) to Ismail I.


Main article: Alevism

In Alevism, Shah Ismail is seen as a religious figure, and a moral spiritual leader. His teachings are in the Buyruk.



    • Tahmasp I
    • Prince ‘Abul Ghazi Sultan Alqas Mirza (15 March 1515 - 9 April 1550) Governor of Shirvan 1538-1547. He rebelled against his brother Tahmasp, captured and imprisoned at the Fortress of Qahqahan. m. Khadija Sultan Khanum, having had issue, two sons, Sultan Ahmad Mirza (died 1568) and Sultan Farrukh Mirza (died 1568)
    • Prince Sultan Rustam Mirza (born 13 September 1517)
    • Prince ‘Abul Naser Sultan Sam Mirza (28 August 1518 - December 1567) Governor-General of Khorasan 1521-1529 and 1532–1534, and of Ardabil 1549-1571. He rebelled against his brother Tahmasp, captured and imprisoned at the Fortress of Qahqahan. He had issue, two sons and one daughter. His daughter, married Prince Jésé (d. 1583) Governor of Sakki the third son of Levan King of Kakheti in Georgia.
    • Prince ‘Abu'l Fat'h Sultan Moez od-din Bahram Mirza (7 September 1518 - 16 September 1550) Governor of Khorasan 1529-1532, Gilan 1536-1537 and Hamadan 1546-1549. m. Zainab Sultan Khanum. She had issue, four sons and one daughter: Sultan Hassan Mirza died in his youth, Sultan Husain Mirza (died 1567) ‘Abu'l Fat'h Sultan Ibrahim Mirza (1541–1577), Sultan Badi uz-Zaman Mirza (k.1577)
    • Prince Soltan Hossein Mirza (born 11 December 1520)


    • Princess Fulaneh Begum, m. as his second wife, before 14 May 1513, Prince Murad Effendi, elder son of Şehzade Ahmet, Crown Princess of Ottoman Empire, son of Bayezid II.
    • Princess Gunish Khanum (26 February 1507 – 2 March 1533) m. (first) at Hamadan, 24 August 1518, Sultan Mozaffar Amir-i-Dibaj (k. at Tabriz, 23 September 1536), Governor of Rasht and Fooman 1516-1535, son of Amir Hisam od-din Amir-i-Dibaj.
    • Princess Pari Khan Khanum m. in 4 October 1521, Shirvanshah Khalil II Governor of Shirvan 1523-1536, son of Shirvanshah Ibrahim II.
    • Princess Khair un-nisa Khanish Khanum (died 12 March 1564) m. 1537, Seyyed Nur od-din Nimatu’llah Baqi Yazdi (d. 21 July 1564), son of Mir Nezam od-din ‘Abdu'l Baqi Yazdi.
    • Princess Shah Zainab Khanum (born 1519)
    • Princess Farangis Khanum (born 1519)
    • Princess Mahin Banu Khanum (1519- 20 January 1562)[44]


See also

Poetry portal



  • R.M. Savory, Esmā'il Safawī, LINK)
  • Mirză Răsul İsmailzadä, Şah İsmail Säfävi (Xätai) küllüyyatı: qäzällär, qäsidälär, näsihätnamä, dähnamä, qoşmalar / Xätai ; mätnin elmi-tänqidi täktibatçısı; Alhoda Publishers, Iran, 2004 (in Azeri), ISBN 964-8121-09-5, OCLC 62561234
  • M. Momen, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale Univ. Press, 1985, pp. 397, ISBN 0-300-03499-7

External links

  • Sheikh Safiaddin Ardabili's Mausoleum Virtual Tour (Ismail I tomb)
Ismail I
New creation Shah of Persia
Succeeded by
Tahmasp I
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