Shah ‘Abbas I, the third son of Shah Muhammad Khudabanda (r. 1578– 87) and the fifth ruler of the Safavid dynasty (1501– 1722), came to power at age 17, at a time when tribal factionalism tore at the fabric of the state and foreign invaders had greatly reduced Iran’s territory. Once on the throne, the shah set out to reestablish the authority of his predecessors and to regain the lands they had lost. Unable to fight a war on two fronts, he took on the Uzbeks in the northeast after concluding a peace treaty with the more formidable Ottomans that forced him to give up substantial territory. The resulting stability allowed him to reform Iran’s military and financial system. Intent on weakening the fractious Turkoman tribes who had brought the dynasty to power, the shah created a standing army composed of loyal slave soldiers (ghulāms), most of whom were Georgians captured during bloody raids in the Caucasus. The revenue required for these measures was raised by converting outlying provinces from state lands ruled as fiefs by tribal leaders to crown lands administered by ghulāms directly reporting to the shah.
Shah ‘Abbas’s grandest achievement was his selection of Isfahan, a city located in the center of Iran, as the nation’s capital. Isfahan was given a new administrative and commercial center consisting of a palace complex, several mosques, and a bazaar, all grouped around a splendid royal square. The shah took various other measures to encourage trade, increasing road security and building many caravansaries throughout the country. To the same end, he deported a large group of Armenians, known for their industriousness, to a newly built suburb of Isfahan, where they were given commercial privileges, including a monopoly on the export of the country’s silk.
A master of co- opting rivals and playing off enemies, ‘Abbas conducted an astute, forward- looking foreign policy designed to maximize revenue and to create an anti- Ottoman alliance with Europe’s Catholic powers. A desire to forge such an alliance and the need for intermediaries played a role in his decision to allow Christian missionaries to settle and operate in his country. He also welcomed English and Dutch merchants, offering them trading rights, and made use of English naval power to expel the Portuguese from the isle of Hormuz in 1622.
Considering Iran’s political fragmentation and its resource- poor economy, Shah ‘Abbas was remarkably successful in his endeavors. In his 40- year reign, he retook the northwestern lands lost by his predecessors, added the Persian Gulf littoral to Safavid control, incorporated parts of Armenia and Georgia with a series of brutal campaigns, seized Qandahar from the Mughals in 1622, and halted the westward expansion of the Ottomans by taking Baghdad a year later. Despite this, some of his policies had long- term negative effects. For fear of a premature challenge to his authority, he brutally dealt with rivals within his family: he killed one of his sons, blinded several of his other sons, and kept their offspring immured in the royal harem. Consequences emerged in the form of inexperienced and mostly weak successors. His conversion of state lands to crown lands generated short- term income but led to long- term exploitation of peasants by landholders interested only in immediate revenue.
Famously down to Earth, Shah ‘Abbas kept an informal style, often mingling with the common people of Isfahan. As gregarious as he was shrewd, and as often cruel as generous, ‘Abbas ultimately was a pragmatic ruler. He is remembered as one of the few kings in Iranian history who was concerned about his people.
See also Iran; Safavids (1501– 1722)
Rula Jurdi Abisaab, Converting Persia: Religion and Power in the Safavid Empire, 2004; Kathryn Babayan, Mystics, Monarchs, and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran, 2003; David Blow, Shah Abbas: The Ruthless King Who Became an Iranian Legend, 2009; Willem Floor, The Economy of Safavid Persia, 2000; Rudolph Matthee, The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver, 1600– 1730, 1999; Andrew Newman, Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire, 2006; Sholeh Quinn, Historical Writing during the Reign of Shah ‘Abbas: Ideology, Imitation and Legitimacy in Safavid Chronicles, 2000; Roger Savory, Iranunder the Safavids, 1980.
The Abbasids came to power in 750 by overthrowing their Umayyad predecessors. The Abbasid revolution represented more than a change of dynasty; Abbasid rule substantially transformed the Islamic tradition. Some of the more obvious effects of Abbasid rule were a new concept of the caliphate; a shift in the locus of political power to the eastern city of Baghdad; the establishment of Islam as a predominantly universalist and multiethnic faith (as opposed to an Arab religion); an increase in the rate of conversion; influence and