Tahmasp I

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Shah Tahmasp I
Shah Tahmasp.jpg
Portrait of Shah Tahmasp I by an unknown Italian artist, 16th-17th centuries, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
2nd Safavid Shah of Persia
Reign23 May 1524 – 25 May 1576
Coronation 2 June 1524
Predecessor Ismail I
Successor Ismail II
Born22 February 1514
Shahabad, Isfahan, Persia
Died14 May 1576(1576-05-14) (aged 62)
Qazvin, Persia
IssueSee below
Full name
‘Abu’l Muzaffar ‘Abu’l Fath Sultan Shah Tahmasb bin Shah Ismail al-Safavi al-Husayni al-Musavi [1]
Dynasty Safavid
Father Shah Ismail I
Mother Tajlu Khanum
Religion Twelver Shia Islam

Tahmasp I ( /tɑːˈmɑːsp/ ; Persian pronunciation:  [tæhˈmɒːseb] , Persian : شاه تهماسب یکم) (22 February 1514 – 14 May 1576) was an influential Shah of Iran, who enjoyed the longest reign of any member of the Safavid dynasty. He was the son and successor of Ismail I.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is one of the Western Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Shah Persian title

Shah is a title given to the emperors, kings, princes and lords of Iran. It was also adopted by the kings of Shirvan namely the Shirvanshahs. It was also used by Persianate societies such as the rulers and offspring of the Ottoman Empire, Mughal emperors of the Indian Subcontinent, the Bengal Sultanate, as well as in Afghanistan. In Iran the title was continuously used; rather than King in the European sense, each Persian ruler regarded himself as the Shahanshah or Padishah of the Persian Empire.

Iran Country in Western Asia

Iran, also called Persia, and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With over 81 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Its territory spans 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the capital, largest city, and leading economic and cultural center.


He came to the throne aged ten in 1524 and came under the control of the Qizilbash who formed the backbone of the Safavid Empire. The Qizilbash leaders fought among themselves for the right to be regents over Tahmasp, and by doing so held most of the effective power in the empire. [2] Upon adulthood, however, Tahmasp was able to reassert the power of the Shah and control the tribesmen with the start of the introduction of large amounts of Caucasian elements, effectively and purposefully creating a new layer in Iranian society, solely composed of ethnic Caucasians. This new layer, also called the third force in some of the modern day sources, would be solely composed of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Circassians, Georgians and Armenians, and they would continue to play a crucial role in Persia's royal household, harems, civil and military administration, as well as in all other thinkable and available positions for centuries after Tahmasp, and they would eventually fully eliminate the effective power of the Qizilbash in most of the functioning posts of the empire, by which they would also become the most dominant class in the meritocratic Safavid kingdom as well. [3] [4] One of his most notable successors, the greatest Safavid emperor, Abbas I (also known as Abbas the Great) would fully implement and finalize this policy and the creation of this new layer in Iranian society.

Qizilbash ethnic group

Qizilbash or Kizilbash were a wide variety of Shi'i militant groups that flourished in Iranian Azerbaijan, Anatolia and Kurdistan from the late 15th century onwards, some of which contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty of Iran.

Caucasus region in Eurasia bordered on the south by Iran, on the southwest by Turkey, on the west by the Black Sea, on the east by the Caspian Sea, and on the north by Russia

The Caucasus or Caucasia is an area situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and occupied by Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including the Greater Caucasus mountain range, which has historically been considered a natural barrier between Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

Circassians North Caucasian ethnic group

The Circassians, also known by their endonym Adyghe, are a Northwest Caucasian nation native to Circassia, many of whom were displaced in the course of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century, especially after the Russo-Circassian War in 1864.

Tahmasp's reign was marked by foreign threats, primarily from the Safavid's arch rival, the Ottomans, and the Uzbeks in the far east. In 1555, however, he regularized relations with the Ottoman Empire through the Peace of Amasya. By this treaty historical Armenia and Georgia were divided equally between the two, the Ottoman Empire obtained most of Iraq, including Baghdad, which gave them access to the Persian Gulf, while the Persians retained their former capital Tabriz and all their other north-western territories in the Caucasus (Dagestan, Azerbaijan) and as they were prior to the wars. The frontier thus established ran across the mountains dividing eastern and western Georgia (under native vassal princes), through Armenia, and via the western slopes of the Zagros down to the Persian Gulf. The Ottomans, further, gave permission for Persian pilgrims to go to the holy places of Mecca and Medina as well as to the Shia sites of pilgrimages in Iraq. [5] This peace lasted for 30 years, until it was broken in the time of Shah Mohammad Khodabanda.

The Uzbeks are a Turkic ethnic group native to Uzbekistan and wider Central Asia, being the largest Turkic ethnic group in the area. They comprise the majority population of Uzbekistan but are also found as a minority group in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia and China. Uzbek diaspora communities also exist in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

Peace of Amasya

The Peace of Amasya was a treaty agreed to on May 29, 1555 between Shah Tahmasp of Safavid Persia and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Turkey at the city of Amasya, following the Ottoman–Safavid War of 1532–1555.

Armenia Republic in South Caucasus in West Asia

Armenia, officially the Republic of Armenia, is a country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located in Western Asia on the Armenian Highlands, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the de facto independent Republic of Artsakh and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhchivan to the south.

Tahmasp is also known for the reception he gave to the fugitive Mughal Emperor Humayun as well as Suleiman the Magnificent's son Bayezid, which is depicted in a painting on the walls of the Safavid palace of Chehel Sotoon.

Mughal Empire dynastic empire extending over large parts of the Indian subcontinent

The Mughal Empire or Mogul Empire was an empire in the Indian subcontinent, founded in 1526. It was established and ruled by the Timurid dynasty, with Turco-Mongol Chagatai roots from Central Asia, claiming direct descent from both Genghis Khan and Timur, and with significant Indian Rajput and Persian ancestry through marriage alliances; the first two Mughal emperors had both parents of Central Asian ancestry, while successive emperors were of predominantly Persian and Rajput ancestry. The dynasty was Indo-Persian in culture, combining Persianate culture with local Indian cultural influences visible in its court culture and administrative customs.

Humayun second Mughal Emperor

Nasir-ud-Din Muḥammad, better known by his regnal name, Humayun, was the second emperor of the Mughal Empire, who ruled over territory in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India and Bangladesh from 1530–1540 and again from 1555–1556. Like his father, Babur, he lost his kingdom early but regained it with the aid of the Safavid dynasty of Persia, with additional territory. At the time of his death in 1556, the Mughal Empire spanned almost one million square kilometres.

Suleiman the Magnificent Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Suleiman I, commonly known as Suleiman the Magnificent in the West and Kanunî Sultan Süleyman in his realm, was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566. Under his administration, the Ottoman state ruled over at least 25 million people.

One of Shah Tahmasp's more lasting achievements was his encouragement of the Persian rug industry on a national scale, possibly a response to the economic effects of the interruption of the Silk Road carrying trade during the Ottoman wars.

Silk Road Trade routes through Asia connecting Chinza to the Mediterranean Sea

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West. It was central to cultural interaction between the regions for many centuries. The Silk Road primarily refers to the terrestrial routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with East Africa, West Asia and Southern Europe.


Regency 1524–1533

Painting of Shah Tahmasp I at Chehel Sotoon palace. Tahmasb-1.jpg
Painting of Shah Tahmasp I at Chehel Sotoon palace.

Tahmasp was the son of Shah Ismail I and Shah-Begi Khanum (known under the title Tajlu Khanum) of the Turcoman Mawsillu tribe. [6] [7] He was only 10 years old when he succeeded his father Shah Ismail, the founder of Safavid rule in Iran. Too young to rule in his own right, Tahmasp came under the control of the Qizilbash. Some of the tribes recognised a Qizilbash leader, Div Sultan Rumlu, as regent (atabeg) to the shah, but others dissented and in 1526 a bloody civil war broke out among the differing factions. Div Sultan emerged victorious but his ally, Chuha Sultan Takkalu, turned against him and urged the shah to get rid of him. On 5 July 1527 as Div Sultan arrived for a meeting of the government, Tahmasp shot an arrow at him. When it failed to kill him, the shah's supporters finished him off.

Ismail I Shah of Persia

Ismail I, also known as Shah Ismail I, was the founder of the Safavid dynasty, ruling from 1501 to 23 May 1524 as Shah of Iran (Persia).

Tajlu Khanum politician

Tajlu Khanum, also known by her title of Shah-Begi Khanum, was a Turcoman princess from the Mawsillu tribe. She was a granddaughter of the Aq Qoyunlu ruler Yaqub bin Uzun Hasan.

Chuha Sultan now became regent. Iran's enemies, the Uzbeks, had taken advantage of the civil war to invade the north-eastern province of Khorasan. In 1528 Chuha Sultan and the shah marched with their army to reassert control of the region. Although they defeated the Uzbeks in a battle near Jam, [8] Tahmasp was disgusted at the cowardice Chuha Sultan had displayed during the combat. Finally, in 1530/1, a quarrel broke out between members of the Takkalu and Shamlu Qizilbash factions and the Shamlus succeeded in killing Chuha Sultan. The Takkalus regained the advantage and some of them even tried to kidnap the shah. Tahmasp lost patience and ordered a general massacre of the Takkalu tribe. They never regained their influence in Iran.

The leader of the Shamlu faction, Husayn Khan, now assumed the regency but, in 1533, Tahmasp suspected Husayn Khan was plotting to overthrow him and had him put to death. Tahmasb was now old enough and confident enough to rule in his own right. [9]

Foreign threats and policies 1532–1555

The 16th century Chehel Sotun pavillon in Qazvin. It is the last remnant of the palace of Shah Tahmasb. It was heavily restored by the Qajars in the 19th century. Qazvin - Chehel Sotun.jpg
The 16th century Chehel Sotun pavillon in Qazvin. It is the last remnant of the palace of Shah Tahmasb. It was heavily restored by the Qajars in the 19th century.

On 18 February 1529, Charles V, deeply alarmed by the Ottoman progression towards Vienna, again sent a letter from Toledo to king Ismail, who had died in 1524 and had been replaced by Tahmasp I, pleading for a military diversion, [10] [11] [12] thus continuing the earlier commenced Habsburg-Persian alliance. His ambassador to the Shah was the knight of Saint John de Balbi, and an alliance was made with the objective of making an attack on the Ottoman Empire in the west and the east within the following year. [12] [13] [14] Tahmasp also responded by expressing his friendship to the Emperor. [11] A decision was thus taken to attack the Ottoman Empire on both fronts, [15] but Balbi took more than one year to return to the Iranian Empire, and by that time the situation had changed in Safavid Iran, as Iran was forced to make peace with the Ottoman Empire because of an insurrection of the Shaybanid Uzbeks. [13]

About the same time, envoys were also sent to Iran by King Ferdinand, in the person of Pietro da Negro and Simon de Lillis, without success. [13] Other legations were sent in 1532 and 1533. [13] These exchanges were effectively followed however by the long Ottoman-Safavid War (1532–1555). [16] From that time, as soon as the Ottomans would launch a European campaign, they would be attacked by the Iranians on their eastern frontier, forcing Suleiman to return speedily to his capital. [17]

Meanwhile, King Francis I of France, enemy of the Habsburgs, and Suleiman the Magnificent were moving forward with a Franco-Ottoman alliance, formalized in 1536, that would counterbalance the Habsburg threat. In 1547, when Suleiman the Magnificent attacked Safavid Iran, France sent him the ambassador Gabriel de Luetz to accompany him in his campaign. [10] Gabriel de Luetz was able to give decisive military advice to Suleiman, as when he advised on artillery placement during the Siege of Vān. [10]

Ottoman-Safavid war

The Persian ambassador Husain Ali Beg during the Persian embassy to Europe (1599-1602). Husain Ali Beg.jpg
The Persian ambassador Husain Ali Beg during the Persian embassy to Europe (1599–1602).

The discord in Iran had allowed its enemies, the Uzbek khans in the east and the Ottoman Empire in the west, to seize territory. The Ottomans were at the height of their power during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. They launched four invasions of Iran between 1533 and 1553. Since the Ottoman army possessed overwhelming numerical superiority, Tahmasp avoided pitched battle with them and resorted to alternative tactics.

In 1534, Suleiman invaded Iran with a force numbering 200,000 men and 300 pieces of artillery. Tahmasp could only field 7,000 men (of dubious loyalty) and a few cannons. The Ottomans seized the Safavid capital Tabriz, and captured Baghdad. Tahmasp avoided direct confrontation with the Ottoman army, preferring to harass it then retreat, leaving scorched earth behind him. This scorched earth policy led to the loss of 30,000 Ottoman troops as they made their way through the Zagros mountains and Suleiman decided to abandon his campaign. [18]

Next, Suleiman tried to exploit the disloyalty of Tahmasp's brother Alqas Mirza, who was governor of the frontier province of Shirvan. Alqas had rebelled and, fearing his brother's wrath, he had fled to the Ottoman court. He persuaded Suleiman that if he invaded the Iranians would rise up and overthrow Tahmasp. In 1548, Suleiman and Alqas entered Iran with a huge army but Tahmasp had already "scorched the earth" around Tabriz and the Ottomans could find few supplies to sustain themselves. Alqas penetrated further into Iran but the citizens of Isfahan and Shiraz refused to open their gates to him. He was forced to retreat to Baghdad where the Ottomans abandoned him as an embarrassment. Captured by the Iranians, his life was spared but he was condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison in the fortress of Qahqaha. [19]

During the final Ottoman invasion of Iran in 1553, Tahmasp seized the initiative and defeated Iskandar Pasha near Erzerum. He also captured one of Suleiman's favourites, Sinan Beg. This persuaded the sultan to come to terms at the Peace of Amasya in 1555. The treaty freed Iran from Ottoman attacks for three decades. Nevertheless, Tahmasp took the precaution of transferring his capital from Tabriz to Qazvin, which was further away from the border. [19]

Despite that Tahmasp's tactics were largely successful during the war, Safavid Iran was forced to make certain concessions per the Amasya Treaty; historical Armenia and Georgia were divided equally between the two, with Western Armenia and western Georgia falling in Ottoman hands and Eastern Armenia and eastern Georgia staying in Safavid Iranian hands, the Ottoman Empire obtained also most of Iraq, including Baghdad, which gave them access to the Persian Gulf, while the Persians retained their former capital Tabriz and all their other north-western territories in the Caucasus (Dagestan, Azerbaijan) and as they were prior to the wars. [20] Erzurum, Van, and Shahrizor became buffer zones.

Between 1540 and 1553, Tahmasp conducted military campaigns in the Caucasus region in both his territories and beyond, capturing many tens of thousands of Armenians, Georgians and Circassians. [21] These would become an important new element in Iranian society. [21]

Royal refugees: Bayezid and Humayun

Shah Tahmasp and the Mughal Emperor Humayun in Isfahan. Tahmasp, Humayun Meeting.jpg
Shah Tahmasp and the Mughal Emperor Humayun in Isfahan.

In 1544, the Mughal emperor, Humayun, fled to Tahmasp's court after he had been overthrown by the Pashtun rebel Sher Shah Suri (Sher Khan). Tahmasp insisted on the Sunni Humayun converting to Shi'ism before he would help him. Humayun reluctantly agreed and also gave Tahmasp the strategically important city of Kandahar in exchange for Iranian military assistance against the heirs of Sher Khan and his own rebellious brothers. By 1555, he had regained his throne. [22] [23]

Humayun was not the only royal figure to seek refuge at Tahmasp's court. A dispute arose in the Ottoman Empire over who was to succeed the aged Suleiman the Magnificent. Suleiman's favourite wife, Hürrem Sultan, was eager for her son, Selim, to become the next sultan. But Selim was an alcoholic and Hürrem's other son, Bayezid, had shown far greater military ability. The two princes quarrelled and eventually Bayezid rebelled against his father. His letter of remorse never reached Suleiman and he was forced to flee abroad to avoid execution.

In 1559 Bayezid arrived in Iran where Tahmasp gave him a warm welcome. Suleiman was eager to negotiate his son's return, but Tahmasp rejected his promises and threats until, in 1561 Suleiman compromised with him. In September of that year, Tahmasp and Bayezid were enjoying a banquet at Tabriz when Tahmasp suddenly pretended he had received news that the Ottoman prince was engaged in a plot against his life. An angry mob gathered and Tahmasp had Bayezid put into custody, alleging it was for his own safety. Tahmasp then handed the prince over to the Ottoman ambassador. Shortly afterwards, Bayezid was killed by agents sent by his own father. [24]

Final years

In 1574, Tahmasp fell ill and discord broke out among the Qizilbash once more, this time over which prince was to succeed him. The shah's Georgian and Circassian wives had also introduced a new faction into the court. Seven of Tahmasp's surviving sons were by Georgian or Circassian mothers and two by a Turcoman. [25] Of the latter, Mohammad Khodabanda was regarded as unfit to rule because he was almost blind, and his younger brother, Ismail, had been imprisoned by Tahmasp since 1555. Nevertheless, one court faction supported Ismail, while another backed Haydar Mirza Safavi, the son of a Georgian. Tahmasp himself was believed to favour Haydar but he prevented his supporters from killing Ismail. [26]

Tahmasp died as a result of poison, although it is unclear whether this was by accident or on purpose. On his death, as expected, fighting broke out between the different court factions. Haydar was killed and Ismail emerged triumphant as Shah Ismail II. [27]

In 1574, Tahmasp also had the 36th Nizari Ismaili Shia Imam Murād Mīrzā executed, due to the perceived political threat he posed.

Tahmasp and the arts

Folio depicting "Isfandiyar's Third Course: He Slays a Dragon" from the Shah Tahmasp Shahnama, located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Isfandiyar's Third Course- He Slays a Dragon", Folio 434v from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp MET DP107166.jpg
Folio depicting "Isfandiyar's Third Course: He Slays a Dragon" from the Shah Tahmasp Shahnama, located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tahmasp was an enthusiastic patron of the arts with a particular interest in the Persian miniature, especially book illustration. He had been trained in drawing himself, and had some talent. The most famous example of such work is the Shāhnāma-yi Shāh Tahmāsbī (King's Book of Kings), commissioned by Tahmasb in 1524 which he later gave as a gift to the ascending Ottoman king in 1566 [29] containing 250 miniatures by the leading court artists of the era. [30]

In the 1540s he is recorded as losing interest in the arts, and his imperial atelier largely dispersed.

The reign of Tahmasp I is considered the most brilliant period in the history of the Azerbaijani language and Azerbaijani literature at this stage of its development. [31]

Tahmasp was against music and expelled all the musicians from his court. [32] [33]



He married nine times:

  1. Sultanum Begum (ca. 1516; d. at Qazvin, 1593), Tahmasp's chief wife [34] and the daughter of Musa Sultan bin Isa Beg Musullu, of the Aq Quyunlu, his maternal first cousin;
  2. Sultan-Agha Khanum, a Circassian, sister of Shamkhal Sultan Cherkes, Governor of Sakki;
  3. Sultanzada Khanum, daughter of Ali Khan Gorji, a Georgian;
  4. Zahra Baji Khanum, daughter of Prince Ot'ar Shalikashvili of Samtskhe from Shalikashvili family of Georgia;
  5. Khan Parwar Khanum, a sister of Zali Beg Gorji, a Georgian;
  6. Huri Khan Khanum, a Georgian;
  7. Unnamed daughter of the Governor of Daghestan;
  8. Aisha Begi Khanum, daughter of Sufian Khan, Khan of Khiva;
  9. Zainab Sultan Khanum (d. at Qazvin, October 1570), widow of his younger brother Shahzada ‘Abdl Fath Muiz ud-din Bahram Mirza, and sister of Imad ud-din Shirvani.

Tahmasp had eight daughters:


See also

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  18. Nahavandi and Bomati p. 283
  19. 1 2 Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 62–63.
  20. The Reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566, V.J. Parry, A History of the Ottoman Empire to 1730, ed. M.A. Cook (Cambridge University Press, 1976), 94.
  21. 1 2 Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 64-65.
  22. Nahavandi and Bomati pp. 286–287
  23. Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 66–67.
  24. Nahavandi and Bomati pp. 284–286
  25. Her name was Sultanum Bekum Mawsillu (Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran, I.B. Tauris, 2004, p. 42)
  26. Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 69.
  27. Cambridge History of Iran Vol. 6, p. 248
  28. ""Isfandiyar's Third Course: He Slays a Dragon", Folio 434v from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp". Metropolitan Museum of Art Website. 14 December 2018.
  29. "The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp". Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  30. Roger Savory, Iran Under the Safavids, 129.
  31. "AZERBAIJAN x. Azeri Turkish Literature – Encyclopaedia Iranica". iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  32. "نگاهی به موسیقی دوره ی صفویه (905 - 1135 ق) ,مجله گلستان هنر , پاییز و زمستان 1384 - شماره 2 , صفحه 141 , تصویر | پایگاه مجلات تخصصی نور". Archived from the original on 9 March 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  33. Newman, A.J. (2006). Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire. I. B. Tauris. p. 32. ISBN   9781860646676 . Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  34. Newman, Andrew J. (2005). Safavid Iran : Rebirth of a Persian Empire. London [u.a.]: I. B. Tauris. p. 29. ISBN   9781860646676.
  35. Guity Nashat; Lois Beck (2003). Women in Iran from the Rise of Islam to 1800. University of Illinois Press. pp. 150–. ISBN   978-0-252-07121-8.
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Turkman, Iskender Bey Munshi (2009). Tarikh-i Alam Ara-Yi Abbasi - Volume 1. pp. 300–1.


Tahmasp I
Preceded by
Isma'il I
Shah of Persia
Succeeded by
Isma'il II